A voter turnout of 60% was recorded in 58 seats in the first phase of the high-stakes Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections as polling ended at 6pm on Thursday, according to the data provided by the Election Commission. Voters had started turning up at polling booths from 7 am onwards.
The 58 Assembly seats that went to polls on Thursday are spread across 11 districts of western Uttar Pradesh – Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Shamli, Hapur, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Agra and Mathura.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav urged the Election Commission to take appropriate action in places where electronic voting machines are malfunctioning or where there are allegations of the voting process being deliberately slowed down.
“Ensuring smooth and fair voting is the Election Commission’s biggest responsibility,” Yadav said.
Rashtriya Lok Dal Jayant Singh Chaudhary also claimed that there were several complaints of EVMs malfunctioning. “It seems that young people and farmers are pressing the button with a lot of anger,” he said. “I appeal to you [voters] to press the button in favour of the gathbandhan with love, not with such anger.”
Additional Chief Election Officer BD Ram Tiwari told PTI that the faulty voting machines had been replaced and polling was peaceful.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged voters “to participate enthusiastically in this holy festival of democracy” as the Assembly polls began. Chief Minister Adityanath, meanwhile, told the voters that it “would not take much time for Uttar Pradesh to become Kashmir, Kerala and Bengal” if they make a mistake.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi urged the voters to free the country from “every fear”. In a tweet, he wrote, “Come out, vote.”
A total of 623 candidates are in the fray in the first phase and more than 2.28 crore voters will decide their fate, election officials told PTI.
The candidates include state ministers Shrikant Sharma, Sandeep Singh, Suresh Rana, Kapil Dev Agarwal, Atul Garg and Chowdhury Lakshmi Narain. Important candidates from the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance include Nahid Hasan from Kairana and Saurabh Swaroop from Muzaffarnagar.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh is seeking re-election from Noida and former Uttarakhand governor Baby Rani Maurya is contesting from Agra Rural.
The Jat-dominated belt of western Uttar Pradesh was the hotbed of the farmers’ protest against the three Central agriculture laws, which have now been repealed. The leaders of the farmers’ protest have urged people to vote out the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Sugarcane farmers in the region have also expressed discontent over delayed payments of their dues and increasing electricity bills.
In the 2017 election, the BJP had swept the region, having won 53 out of 58 seats.
This time, the BJP has focused on the alleged exodus of Hindus from the area due to threats and extortion by “criminal elements belonging to a particular community”. Kairana has a Muslim population of about 50%.
However, an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission in 2016 had found that people were migrating from Kairana because of the worsening law and order situation and increase in criminal activities.
In Baghpat, the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots may continue to have an impact, with some Jat farmers in favour of the Lok Dal this time, and some who have expressed discontent with the Samajwadi Party for its handling of the violence.
The Uttar Pradesh elections will be held in a total of seven phases and the results will be declared on March 10.
Read our five years after BJP’s UP sweep series here.