Actors, ex-army chief, top cop raise stakes in UP (Curtain Raiser - Election Special)

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Lucknow, April 8: With a former Indian Army chief, three Bollywood actors and a former top cop of Mumbai in the fray, western Uttar Pradesh is set for a keen battle on Thursday to elect 10 of the state's 80 Lok Sabha members.

The biggest test lies for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has five MPs from the region in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

Faced with caste and community matrix, BSP chief Mayawati is straddled with a never before like situation when her tested social engineering formula is up for a reality check.

The test for the Dalit diva starts in Saharanpur, the centre of much mud-slinging and hate mongering after Congress candidate Imran Masood's infamous "will chop Modi into pieces" comment.

The calculations of the outgoing BSP MP, Jagdish Rana, might go haywire as the area gets polarized between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

Western Uttar Pradesh is set for a keen battle.

While the BJP is making the best use of the hate speech against its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the Congress is seeking the Muslim vote to halt the Modi juggernaut.

In her recent rallies, Mayawati has tried to woo Muslim voters by citing the 2002 Gujarat riots and telling them that Modi will turn Uttar Pradesh into a riot state like Gujarat.

The ruling Samajwadi Party faces a double whammy. First, it has to retain the two seats it won in 2009. Then, it has to contain the ire of Muslims who are present in sizeable numbers in all the 10 seats.

There is also resentment among sugarcane growers against the two-year-old Akhilesh Yadav government.

A visibly angry Girish Rana, a farmer, told IANS that the Samajwadi Party leadership had pawned their future to private sugar mill owners. He was also critical of what he said was the appeasement of Muslims.

Western Uttar Pradesh is also the centre of farmer politics and has time and again aided the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). But many feel that party chief Ajit Singh may be in for a shock this time.

The party chief holds the Baghpat seat. He has been challenged by former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh.

RLD is hoping to win the Bijnore seat on the credentials of cine actress Jaya Prada.

With Jat votes on many seats crucial, any shift in their loyalty could lead to a tectonic shift. This is what the BJP is looking for.

BJP state chief Laxmikant Bajpayi, a legislator from Meerut, predicts a clean sweep for his party.

The BJP is specially hopeful for General V.K. Singh (Ghaziabad), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat), Mahesh Sharma (Noida), Sanjiv Baliyan (Muzaffarnagar), Kunwa Bhartendu Singh (Bijnore), Hukum Singh (Kairana) and Rajendra Agarwal (Meerut).

The Bijnore and Kairana candidates are accused in the September riots in Muzaffarnagar and nearby areas that left over 60 people dead.

The Congress is hopeful of film actress Nagma winning from Meerut and Raj Babbar from Ghaziabad.

Congress vice president called on Masood's family on the day he was arrested for his statement threatening Modi.

The party's prospects have been jolted by the last minute defection of Congress candidate from Gautambudh Nagar (Noida) to the BJP.

Raj Babbar, the Congress candidate from Ghaziabad, is upbeat.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has fielded candidates in all the 10 seats, is seen as an "also ran" force in a region entrenched in caste and community feelings.

IANS

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