Muslims hold the key..voting for 67 UP seats today

  Lucknow: After an improved voter turn out in the first phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the battle for ballot in the state enters its second phase, with voting to be held in 67 assembly constituencies spread across 11 districts on Wednesday.The stakes in this round are the highest for the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), which had done well in many of these constituencies in 2012 elections.The party is facing a tough challenge to maintain its lead with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) raising their pitch on a number of issues including the law and order situation in the state.The high-decibel campaign for the 67 seats ended on Monday evening with political parties pulling out all stops to woo voters. 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.The SP holds 34 of the 67 seats and had finished second in 18 others in 2012 polls. The Congress had won four and finished second in eight. The two parties are contesting the election in alliance.The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had won 17 and finished second in 22 others while the  the BJP 10 and finished second in 15. Smaller outfits such as the Peace Party and Ittehadul-E-Millat Council had won one seat each in 2012.Polling will take place in Sambhal, Moradabad, Rampur, Bareilly, Amroha, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Shahjahanpur, Bijnore, Saharanpur and Budayun districts spread across Rohilkhand, Terai and northwestern parts of the state.  In some districts, including Rampur, Moradabad, Badayun and Bijnor, Muslim population is around 40 per cent.Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and BSP chief Mayawati campaigned extensively for this phase of polls.The fate of Uttar Pradesh Minister Mohammad Azam Khan, his son Abdullah Azam and ministers Iqbal Masood, Haji Riiyaz Ahmad, Mehboob Ali, Ram Moorti Verma, Kamal Akhtar and Mool Chandra Chauhan besides Congress leader Jiten Prasada will be decided on Wednesday.A total of 721 candidates are in the fray. Of the 2.28 crore voters, 1.23 crore are males. The maximum number of 28 candidates are in Kanth constituency and the least in Dhanaura which has five candidates.  There are 82 women in the fray.While the BJP and BSP are fighting on all 67 second phase seats, the SP is contesting 51 seats and Congress 18 and Rashtriya Lok Dal 53. Nationalist Congress Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Party of India have also put up their candidates. There are  207 independents.The staggered battle for the Uttar Pradesh assembly began on February 11 when 73 constituencies went to the polls.  The first phase recorded 64.22 per cent voter turn out which was better than 59.60 percent in 2012 and 45.96 percent in 2007.

IANS