Battle lines have been drawn for the first phase of the UP assembly elections due on February 8. The districts which will go to polls in the first phase are- Sitapur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Gonda, Siddharthnagar and Basti.

As many as 949 candidates had filed their nomination papers for a total of 55 assembly seats falling under these districts. The Election Commission rejected the nomination papers of 61 applicants whereas 66 aspirants withdrew their names from the election fray leaving a total of 867 contestants in the poll arena.

In 2007 assembly polls, the ruling BSP had won 30 seats out of 55 in these districts which are to witness elections in the first phase. Other parties like Samajwadi Party, BJP and Congress had won 18, four and three seats in the region respectively. Naturally BSP’s prestige is at stake in the first phase of polling.

A high voltage fight is expected to take place in Utraula constituency where Dheerendra Pratap Singh of the BSP, Aarif Anwar Hashmi of the SP and Shyam Lal Verma of the BJP are contesting against each other. However, only one lucky candidate will be able to get a berth in the 16th assembly as a representative of Utraula.

Similar is the situation in the Mahsi constituency of Bahraich district where BSP has fielded Krishna Kumar Ojha against the BJP’s Sureshwar Singh whereas the Sanajwadi Party nominee Lal Ji Yadav is presenting tough challenge to his arch rival and BJP candidate Jai Pratap Singh on Bansi seat.

Interestingly, the number of Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha is greater than that of the number of its MLAs from this region. In 2007 assembly elections only three party candidates could register victory whereas in 2009 Lok Sabha polls a total of 10 Congress candidates were elected from this region.

Congress is under pressure to repeat the success story of 2009 Lok Sabha elections in this elections.

Retaining Ayodhya seat, epicenter of Ram Janmabhumi movement which also goes to poll in the first phase, is a prestige issue for BJP. Sitting party MLA Lallu Singh faces tough challenge from BSP candidate Ved Prakash Gupta and SP candidate Tej Narayan Pandey.

The Ambedkar Naagar district is considered to be the bastion of BSP supremo Mayawati. The two sitting BSP MLAs from this area- Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar- are ministers in the state government. Lalji is contesting from Katehari seat whereas Ramcahal’s son is in fray from Akbarpur seat of this area. The fate of other Ministers in the state government- Ramhet Bharti from Hargaon and Sangram Singh from Barabanki- is also to be decided in the first phase. .

Moreover, there are certain SP heavyweights like former speaker Mata Prasad Pandey (Itwa), former minister Dr Waqar Ahmed Shah (Bahraich Sadar), Arvind Singh Gope (Ramnagar), Awadesh Prasad (Milkipur), Rajkishore Singh (Haraiya) and former MP Mitrasen Yadav (Bikapur), whose fate will be decided in the first phase.

Daddan Mishra, former minister in the BSP government, is contesting from Bhinga seat as BJP candidate after parting his ways with BSP chief Mayawati.

The prestige of some of the Union Ministers and Congress MPs is also at stake. Beni Prasad Verma’s son Rakesh Verma is contesting from Dariyabad, MP Jagdambika Pal’s son Abhishek Pal is in fray from the Basti Sadar seat and MP Kamal Kishore’s wife Poonam Kishore is contesting from Balha seat. Other important leaders in the fray are RLD’s National General Secretary Munna Singh Chauhan (Bikapur) and the Congress stalwart Dr Ammar Rizvi.