[Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav campaigning for party candidates. (File Photo/Reuters)]
Lucknow: The first phase, covering 73 assembly segments in the communally charged 15 districts of Western Uttar Pradesh, will witness at least four cornered contest in these seats on February 11. There are 840 candidates in the fray for the first phase polling, in which the highest number of candidates are in Agra south seat (26) and lowest of six each in Hastinapur, Loni and Iglas seats.
The prominent seats where a keen tussle would be witnessed are the Noida seat where Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's son Pankaj is on his maiden Assembly entry and in Mathura seat, where Congress legislature party leader Pradeep Mathur has been challenged by BJP national Spokesperson Shrikant Sharma.
Besides, the fate of Muzaffarnagar riot accused Sangeet Singh Som would be sealed in the first phase from Sardhana seat in Meerut.
The Jat and Muslim dominated western UP will witness some direct contest between the BJP and BSP but in several seats, the SP-Congress alliance and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) could surprise the formidable contestants.
Bickering within the BJP over candidates selection could ruin their prospect. Still the party is banking on polarisation of the elections and roping in all the majority community votes like they did in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Kairana exodus and communal riots in Muzaffarnagar would again hit the limelight in these elections too which would be negative for the SP-Congress alliance. But demand for Jat reservation, which has resurfaced ahead of the elections, would be tormenting for the BJP.
BSP, which had fielded 97 Muslim candidates in UP polls this time, is also eager to ride their elephant symbol on a new Dalit-Muslim combination in the state.
Political parties are yet to launch their campaign in the first phase of polling and the electioneering would pick up in the first week of February.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the star campaigner of the BJP, will launch his election meetings from Meerut on February 4 followed by his rally in Aligarh on February 7, in Bijnore on February10 and in Pilibhit on February 22.
BSP president Mayawati will launch her party's campaign from February 1 by addressing three meetings in Meerut, Baghpat and Aligarh.
SP-Congress combine would also hold two joint rallies in each of the seven phase elections. Besides, Akhikesh Yadav and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will campaign separately for the respective party candidates.
The SP-Congress alliance is trying to dent into the Muslim and upper caste vote bank but confusion in their alliance is jeopardizing their chances. At least in three assembly segments in the first phase - Baldev in Mathura, Kol in Aligarh and Purkazi in Muzaffarnagar - SP and Congress candidates are contesting against each other.
Candidates of the RLD led by Ajit Singh, AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi and other smaller parties are likely to impact the fate of the bigger parties and could spoil their run to the UP assembly.
Asaduddin Owaisi is already campaigning in Muslim-dominated areas of western UP for the past couple of weeks, while RLD is banking on its core Jat vote bank. RLD is contesting in 59 seats in the first phase.
In the 2012 assembly polls, the results in these 73 assembly segments were 24 in favour of SP, 23 for BSP, 12 for BJP, 09 for RLD and 05 for Congress.