Lucknow: Polling has begun for one of the most fiercely contested electoral battles in Uttar Pradesh.
Voting began at 7 a.m. in 58 Assembly constituencies in the first of the seven-phase elections, covering 11 districts of western Uttar Pradesh.
The 11 districts where polling is being held include Shamli, Meerut, Hapur, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Agra, Gautam Buddha Nagar and Mathura. Nearly 2.27 crore voters will exercise their right.
This phase is crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had won 53 of these 58 seats in 2017.
Of the remaining five seats, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won two each, while the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) had bagged one.
The BJP victory in the region was not just big but also comprehensive. The party won 23 of the 53 seats with a victory margin of over 20 per cent votes.
The SP and the RLD, which are contesting the 2022 elections in an alliance and are the principal challengers to the ruling BJP, will need to make huge gains here if they hope to unseat Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
While the SP was runners-up in 15 seats and third in 14, the RLD was runners-up in only three and in third position in 11 seats.
The BSP, which could manage to win in only two seats, was ranked second in 30 Assembly constituencies and the Congress in 5 seats.
The BSP had polled more than 50,000 votes in as many as 28 seats.
Overall, in as many as 27 seats out of 53, the victory margin of the BJP was less than the votes polled by the party at the third position.
Clearly, division of opposition votes did help the BJP in several seats.
Some prominent BJP candidates in the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election 2022 include former Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya and nine state ministers, including Suresh Rana, Shrikant Sharma and Chaudhary Lakshmi Narain.
BJP State General Secretary Pankaj Singh, Sangeet Som, Satyaveer Tyagi and Mriganka Singh are some other big names contesting polls in the first phase.
SP has fielded former minister Shahid Manzoor and Nahid Hasan while the BSP has fielded Madan Chauhan and Kriparam Sharma during this phase.
Avtar Singh Bhadana, Gajraaj Singh, Tej Pal Singh and Manisha Ahlawat are some prominent candidates from the RLD while Pradeep Mathura and Pankhuri Pathak from Congress and Pankaj Awana of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are also in the fray.
Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 paramilitary personnel from 412 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed at different locations to maintain law and order in the poll-bound state.