[According to Chief Electoral Officer of Uttar Pradesh, T. Venkatesh, the total voter turnout was 64.22% with Shamli recording highest 67.12%.]
New Delhi/Lucknow: The first phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections passed off "peacefully" on Saturday with about 64.2 % polling recorded, bettering by 3% the record of the past two state polls, the Election Commission said.
"Participation (of voters) has been exemplary," Deputy Election Commissioner Vijay Dev told reporters in New Delhi.
Voting continued even after 5 p.m. at some polling stations since voters who had queued up late were allowed to exercise their franchise.
Dev said the elections spread across 15 districts, 73 assembly constituencies, involved over 2.6 crore voters, 839 candidates, including 73 women candidates.
According to Chief Electoral Officer of Uttar Pradesh, T. Venkatesh, the total voter turnout was 64.22% with Shamli recording highest 67.12%.
While in Agra, the voter turnout was 63.88%, in Aligarh it was 64.66%, Muzaffarnagar 65.50%, Hapur 65.67%, Firozabad 63.59%, Mathura 65.39%, Noida 59.17%, Ghaziabad 58.10%, Bulandshahr 64.65%, Etah 64.73%, Kasganj 64.83%, Meerut 66%, Hatharas 64.10% and Baghpat polled 64.99%.
The polling percentage in Mathura improved by eight per cent over the 2012 state assembly elections.
The Deputy Election Commissioner also said that Rs 19.56 lakh in cash, 4.4 lakh litre of alcohol worth Rs 4.4 lakh and gold and silver worth Rs 14 crore were seized before the elections.
Security was tight in the western city of Muzaffarnagar, where over 60 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in riots in 2013.
Brother of controversial BJP legislator Sangeet Som, accused of making inflammatory speeches ahead of the deadly riots, was detained this morning in Faridpur for carrying a pistol inside a polling booth, a senior police officer said.
The BJP, SP-Congress alliance and the BSP are locked in a close contest in western UP, with Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal or RLD hoping to consolidate some of the Jat vote once again and push back into political relevance.
The UP election is seen as a referendum on Modi's controversial ban on high-value banknotes, a move aimed at combating tax evasion by the rich that has hit poor rural communities hard.
Uttar Pradesh voted overwhelmingly for Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general election, powering him to victory over the Congress Party that has dominated Indian politics since independence.
But now the BJP faces a major challenge from the youthful and charismatic current Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who has tapped into the pain from Modi's cash ban to try and swing the state his way.
"Modi must answer the people. His credibility will come into question, and that is why he is panicking," Yadav told reporters Saturday in the state capital Lucknow. "This result is going to give him a big jolt."
With so much at stake halfway through his term, Modi has personally led the campaigning for his party instead of relying on a local face.
He urged voters to partake in the "huge festival of democracy", while painting his opponents as enablers of Uttar Pradesh's notoriously corrupt elites.
"Criminals rule the roost in UP. There is so much lawlessness all around," Modi said in a speech Saturday, referring to the state by its popular acronym.
But, in not fielding a candidate for the post of chief minister, the BJP has risked repeating a tactical blunder that contributed to a heavy defeat in Bihar, another Hindi-speaking heartland state, in 2015.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), which runs Uttar Pradesh and is led by 43-year-old Akhilesh Yadav, won a majority in the last state election, in 2012, with just 29 percent of the vote.
Yadav has formed an alliance with Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party that, polls show, will be tough to beat.
Ranking third, Mayawati, who ran the state from 2007 to 2012 and whose Bahujan Samaj Party draws its support from communities on the bottom rung of India's ancient caste hierarchy.
She has fielded a big crop of candidates from the Muslim minority that makes up 19 percent of the state's electorate. Polls show most Muslims siding with the ruling Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance, however.
Results from Uttar Pradesh, along with Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, are due on March 11.