Amid tight security, polling began this morning for the first of the seven phases of the high-stake Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections with voters queueing up to cast their ballots in 73 constituencies spread over 15 districts of western UP.
A total of 2.60 crore voters, including over 1.17 crore women and 1,508 belonging to third gender category are eligible to cast their ballots in 26,823 polling stations to decide the fate of 839 candidates..
The first phase of polling will decide the electoral fortunes of Pankaj Singh (Noida seat), son of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress Legislature Party leader Pradeep Mathur (Mathura) against whom BJP spokesman Srikant Sharma is in fray, Mriganka Singh (Kairana), daughter of BJP MP Hukum Singh and controversial BJP MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana - Sardhana and Thanabhawan respectively.
Former BJP state president Lakshmikant Bajpai (Meerut), RJD chief Lalu Prasad's son-in-law Rahul Singh (SP) from Sikandarabad, and Sandeep Singh, grandson of Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh from Atrauli are among other key figures in this phase.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made in all districts for the polls which are being seen as a litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nearly three-year rule.
Out of 887 polling centres in riot-scarred Muzaffarnagar, around 600 are sensitive where video cameras have been installed to maintain strict vigil.
Around 6,000 paramilitary personnel have been deployed in all polling centres in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring Shamli to instill a sense of security among voters, especially with focus on areas which had witnessed communal riots in 2013.
The excise department has set up checkposts at inter-state borders as well as along the border with Nepal to check distribution of liquor to voters during elections.
Besides, the EC has set up a police cell to keep a tab on messages received through social media so that trouble makers do not vitiate social harmony. The districts going to polls in this phase are Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Agra,Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj.
In the 73 constituencies where polling is being held today, SP and BSP had bagged 24 seats each, BJP 11, Rashtriya Lok Dal headed by Ajit Singh nine and Congress five in the 2012 polls.