LUCKNOW: Preparations are complete for Sunday’s polling in 69 Assembly constituencies that figure in phase-III of the staggered Uttar Pradesh elections.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's Lok Sabha constituency Lucknow, and SP strongholds Kannauj, Mainpuri and Etawah, figure in this round.
Farrukhabad, Hardoi, Auraiya, Kanpur Dehat, Kanpur, Unnao, Barabanki and Sitapur are among the 12 districts where these Assembly seats are spread over.
Etawah is the native place of SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav, while another key district is Mainpuri, from where Tej Pratap Yadav is an SP MP. From Kannauj Dimple Yadav, wife of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is an MP.
In the 2012 Assembly polls, SP had won 55 of these 69 seats, while BSP, BJP and Congress secured just six, five and two respectively. One seat went to an Independent.
A total of 826 candidates are in fray, whose fate will be decided by 2.41 crore voters, including 1.10 crore women and 1,026 belonging to third gender category.
While the maximum number of 21 candidates are in Etawah, minimum of three candidates are in Haidergarh (Barabanki). Lucknow West and Central have 17 candidates each. Voting will take place in 25,603 polling booths in this phase.
Prominent among those whose prestige will be at stake is Nitin Agarwal, son of SP leader Naresh Agarwal, BSP turncoat Brijesh Pathak from Lucknow (Central) on BJP ticket and Congress turncoat Rita Bahuguna Joshi from Lucknow Cantt, who is pitted against Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law Aparna.
SP leader Shivpal too is a key figure in this round. He is contesting from Jaswant Nagar seat. Congress leader P L Punia's son, Tanuj Punia is trying his luck from Jaidpur seat in Barabanki.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah led the saffron brigade, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati crisscrossed the constituencies where the stakes of their party are high.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was in the vanguard, slamming Modi for his note ban decision and accusing him of betraying people with his 'achchey din' promise.
Modi and Shah, on the other hand, lashed out at the ruling Samajwadi Party on issues of law and order and corruption in the state.
The Prime Minister repeatedly sought to puncture Akhilesh's "kaam bolta hai" slogan by stating it was the SP leader's "karnama" (misdeed) which spoke.
However, ducking all brickbats hurled at him, Akhilesh went ahead tom-tomming his development schemes and welfare measures.
He said after the turnout trend of first two phases, the blood pressure of Opposition has shot up. In a bid to woo minority voters, he also tried to attack Mayawati stating, "She cannot be trusted. She can even join hands with BJP again to form next government."
The BSP supremo, however, clarified in her speeches that "she will prefer to sit in the Opposition instead of joining hands with anyone" while urging minority voters to back her party.
Her refrain was deterioration in law and order and plight of women who felt insecure. Another highlight of electioneering for phase three of polling was an appearance of SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav on the campaign trail.
After skipping constituencies falling in the first two phases, Mulayam campaigned for brother Shivpal Singh and daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav but preferred not to seek votes for others. He is said to be perturbed over SP forming a coalition with Congress.
The next four phases of polling will be held on February 23, 27 and on March 4 and 8. Counting of votes will take place on March 11.
(With inputs from PTI)