Lucknow/ New Delhi After completing three phases of polling, Uttar Pradesh has entered the crucial fourth phase of polling today (February 23). Elections are being held across 59 assembly constituencies in nine districts. Polling is being held in vital Lakhimpur Kheri, Sitapur, Hardoi, Banda, Unnao, Fatehpur, Lucknow and onetime Sonia Gandhi's bastion Rae Bareli.
Though Sonia Gandhi could retain Rae Bareli's seat in Lok Sabha polls (2019), she suffered a substantial support base loss. There was negative voting of about 8 per cent compared to her performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The voters will decide the fate of 624 candidates on Wednesday's polling. BJP swept the region five years ago, winning 51 seats. Its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) bagged one seat, while the Samajwadi Party picked up four and three had gone to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The merciless caste equations could come into play in Uttar Pradesh elections as there are 14 reserved constituencies in this phase, and hence comes the importance of BSP chief Mayawati as well. BJP chief strategist Amit Shah has said it would be erroneous to dismiss BSP as the political force in the state.
It goes without stating that, unlike the past, 'caste handling' is now BJP's biggest strength, which has become a 'representative' of all castes in UP.
Hamid Rizvi from Unnao says, "English media analysts seldom bother to take note that between 2012-13 to 2019-20, the BJP has worked hard on transforming its social-caste base. OBCs came to centre stage more by default than any concrete plan. Now that it has come, the BJP has nurtured this strength."
There is a spirit of enthusiasm among BJP foot soldiers and poll strategists in segments such as Pilbhit, Sitapur and Lucknow. "Some analysts are busy pushing their line that Samajwadi Party is putting up a tough fight. They also paint the elections to be bipolar. They forget the Hindutva agenda and also lawlessness during the Akhilesh rule between 2012 and 2017. I think more than the political parties, some analysts are in for a rude shock on the counting day," said one BJP booth manager in Lucknow. Several other issues like free ration and improved law and order situation will push the BJP again, they exude confidence.