Lucknow, April 15: Eleven parliamentary constituencies go to the polls Thursday in Uttar Pradesh, where a bitter contest is on among major contenders to win the maximum number of its 80 Lok Sabha seats.
The second phase of balloting in the country’s most populous state involves some political stalwarts: Santosh Gangwar and Maneka Gandhi (BJP), Dharmendra Yadav (SP), Rakesh Tikait (RLD-Congress) and Begum Noorbano (Congress).
The constituencies which will see balloting Thursday are Moradabad, Nagina, Rampur, Aonla, Pilibhit, Bareilly, Budayun, Kheri, Amroha, Shahjahanpur and Sambhal.
With a sizable presence of Muslims in almost all the constituencies, it will be a keenly watched contest in Rampur, the fiefdom of UP minister Mohd Azam Khan.
In Rampur, four-time legislator Naved Miyan is contesting on the Congress ticket against Nepal Singh (BJP), a former minister, Naseer Khan (SP) and Haji Akbar (BSP).
The stakes are equally high for former union minister Maneka Gandhi, who is trying her luck for the sixth time in a Lok Sabha contest.
Gandhi, who dropped Pilibhit for the Aonla constituency in 2009 after son Varun Gandhi contested from Pilibhit, is pitted against Anees Ahmad Khan (BSP) and Sanjay Kapoor of the Congress, in whose favour Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an election rally last week.
In Kheri, Zafar Ali Naqvi of the Congress faces a strong challenge from Ajay Mishra (BJP) and Arvind Giri (BSP).
Ravi Prakash Verma of the Samajwadi Party (SP), a three-time MP from here but who slipped to the fourth place in 2009, is also pitching hard to reclaim the seat.
The contest is equally open between the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), SP, Congress and the BSP in Shahjahanpur.
The AAP has fielded Rita Jatav, a former Congress member, in Shahjahanpur. She enjoys a clean image but is known for hopping on to a new party in election season.
It is a big ticket contest in Bareilly, which saw many riots in the last two years and where the BJP is accused of polarizing the electoral mood in favour of its candidate Santosh Gangwar.
The veteran Gangwar’s main challenge comes from Praveen Singh Aron, the outgoing Congress MP who is popular owing to the work he has undertaken in the constituency.
In Budayun, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s nephew and former MP from Mainpuri, Dharmendra Yadav, is the outgoing MP.
Known as a giant killer for defeating D.P. Yadav in 2009, he is seen as a front-runner. But he is facing heat from BJP’s Vageesh Pathak and Swamy Paglanand, a Krishna devotee and singer of Mahan Dal.
In Aonla, Dharmendra Kumar Kashyap, who contested on the SP ticket against Maneka Gandhi, is now a BJP candidate and is taking on Salim Sherwani of the Congress.
In Nagina, Amroha and Sambhal too, which go to the polls Thursday, the contest will be close.
Yashveer Singh (SP) is the incumbent MP in Nagina. He is pitted against Yashwant Singh (BJP) who was a former minister in the Mayawati government, petroleum dealer and legislator from Chandausi Girish Chandra (BSP) besides Tarika Choudhary (AAP).
In Sambhal, the SP has fielded Shafeek-ur-Rehman Vark (earlier in BSP), the Congress has fielded Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who is getting Bollywood stars to campaign for him, while D.P. Yadav is fighting on a Rashtriya Parivartan Dal ticket.
Hotelier Kanwar Singh Tanwar, with business interests in Australia, England and Europe, is contesting farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, the Congress candidate from Amroha.
A total of 151 candidates are in the fray Thursday.
A total of 18 million electorate will vote at 16,788 polling booths.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at email@example.com)