Saharanpur, Feb 13: As the battle for ballot in Uttar Pradesh shifts to 67 second-phase seats, including those in Rohilkhand and the Terai region, much seems at stake for the Samajwadi Party, which had done well in many of these constituencies in 2012 elections.
This time round, the party is facing a tough challenge to its bid to maintain its lead in the area from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The 67 second-phase seats across 11 districts of Uttar Pradesh, where balloting will be held on Wednesday, have a sizeable population of Muslims. In some districts, including Rampur, Moradabad and Bijnor, their population is over 40 per cent.
The SP's alliance with the Congress is expected to work to advantage of the two parties amid a vigorous push by the BSP for minority votes.
The BSP has given more tickets to Muslims than it did in 2012 elections and party chief Mayawati has been striving hard to build a rainbow coalition based on consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes.
Both the BSP and the BJP have also been attacking the SP over law and order situation in the state. The case registered by the police on Monday against SP's legislator Arun Verma has spelt fresh trouble for the state's ruling party.
The legislator was booked after a woman, who had accused him of rape, was found dead under mysterious circumstances.
However, Verma, contesting from Sultanpur, has denied any role in the death of the 21-year-old, who was found dead on Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his rally on Monday at Lakhimpur-Kheri, sharply attacked the SP government, saying that women in the state did not feel safe.
In 2012 elections, the SP had won 35 of the 67 constituencies falling in the second phase polls now. It had finished second in 18 others. The Congress had won three and finished second in eight.
The campaigning for the second-phase polls ended on Monday. The state is having seven-phase elections for 402 of the 403 assembly seats (election to one seat has been countermanded) and results will be declared on March 11.
Top leaders of all parties, including SP chief and state Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, have held rallies in the second-phase constituencies.
The SP leaders said the party would improve on their 2012 performance.
"Our performance will be better this time, as we are in alliance with Congress. 'Cycle' (election symbol of the SP) with 'Hand' (the poll symbol of the Congress) will increase their pace from the second phase and race till the last phase," Samajwadi Party MP from Badaun Dharmendra Yadav told IANS.
"We are expecting to win over 50 seats this time (in second phase) compared to 35 we won on our own in 2012," he added.
Another party leader, Naresh Agarwal said that increased voting percentage in the first phase was a good sign for the party.
"We are confidant of winning 300 seats (overall). We are banking on our development work. Demonetisation is a big issue for us," Agrawal told IANS.
The BJP could win only 10 of the 67 second phase seats in the 2012 elections and finished second in 15. However, it vastly improved its position in the second-phase assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP is banking on support of Other Backward Classes, which have a sizeable population in several constituencies.
The party is also trying to woo the agricultural community, which faced problems due to demonetisation, and has promised loan waiver to small farmers, apart from time-bound payment to sugarcane farmers.
BJP leader and Union Minister Santosh Gangwar said the atmosphere was in favour of the party.
"People are fed up with SP and BSP. Law and order situation is at its worst. There is a wave in favour of BJP as people see it as the only option. We will win the polls. In Bareilly district, we will win seven out of nine seats," he said.
The 11 districts going to polls in the second phase are Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Bareilly, Amroha, Peelibhit, Lakhimpur-Kheeri, Shahjahanpur and Budaun.
In the 2012 polls, the BSP had won 18 seats and finished second in 22 others. BSP's Rajya Sabha member Veer Singh said that the party might not be getting too much play in the media, but it did well in the first phase too.
"We will perform much better in the second phase. There is anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Samajwadi Party and law and order situation is bad."
"People are also angry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he has not fulfilled promises. Demonetisation has ruined their life. People of Uttar Pradeh will take revenge. For them, BSP is the only option," Veer Singh told IANS.
The constituencies going to elections include those in the Terai belt bordering Nepal and the Rohilkhand region. There are 721 candidates in the fray, including 69 women. The polls will test influence of several leaders, including BJP's Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi, SP's Azam Khan, and gthe Congress' Jitin Prasada.