The spirit of democracy in Uttar Pradesh (UP) could not be dampened by inclement weather and it recorded 62 per cent peaceful polling, the highest so far, in the first phase on Wednesday.
The earlier maximum polling recorded at under 58 per cent was in 1993.
Polling started sluggishly in the 55 assembly constituencies across 10 districts in central and eastern UP due to early downpour that kept electorates indoors.
The polling percentage, which started at a mere 13.38 per cent, finally clocked a whopping 62 per cent at the end of polling, owing to improvement in weather.
862 candidates being in fray in this phase, it includes 796 males and 65 females and one eunuch with 17 million voters eligible to vote.
In the 2007 assembly poll, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had bagged the maximum 30 seats, followed by Samajwadi Party (SP) 18, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 4 and Congress 3.
Elaborate security arrangements had been made with the deployment of 55,000 central paramilitary forces and 10,000 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel, besides local police, to maintaining law and order and manning the 18,000 odd polling stations/booths.
According to election officials, about 2,125 polling stations had been flagged sensitive and 3,425 hyper sensitive.
Phase-I polling is expected to be the litmus test for neo-Congressman and Union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma to prove his credentials as the tallest Kurmi leader in the region. His son Rakesh Verma is seeking election from Dariyabad constituency in home turf of Barabanki.
Other prominent candidates in fray included former assembly speaker Mata Prasad Pandey (Samajwadi Party/Itwa, Siddharth Nagar), state finance minister Lalji Verma (BSP/Katehari, Ambedkar Nagar), former state minister Munna Singh Chauhan (RLD/Bikapur, Faizabad), Mitrasen Yadav (SP/Bikapur, Faizabad) and Congress parliamentarian Jagda-mbika Pal’s son Abhishek from Basti.
The Congress is counting on its good show in the 2009 general election and the untiring canvassing by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to improve the party’s fortunes and end the 23 years of political banishment in UP. The party had bagged 5 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
The first phase polling encompassed Ambedkar Nagar, Barabanki, Basti, Bahraich, Balrampur, Faizabad, Gonda, Siddharth Nagar, Shravasti and Sitapur districts. UP would witness polling in seven phases viz February 8, 11, 15, 19, 23, 28 and March 3, and counting would start on March 4 for all the five states.