Uttar Pradesh recorded a 63% voter turnout on Saturday as polling in the first phase of the elections commenced, The Times of India reported. However, polling was delayed in several booths in the state after Electronic Voting Machines malfunctioned.

On Saturday, the police detained Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Sardhana legislator Sangeet Som’s brother Gagan Som for carrying a gun inside a polling booth in Meerut, ANI reported.

Meanwhile, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party National President Akhilesh Yadav addressed a joint press conference on Saturday where they criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for distracting voters when he “cannot answer questions”. They launched a “common minimum programme” under their parties’ alliance.

Reacting to Modi’s comment on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gandhi said, “Modi likes to read janampatri, peep into bathrooms of people...but he is failure as PM.” On February 8, the prime minister had said only Singh “knew the art of taking a shower with a raincoat on” while defending his demonetisation drive.

“There is a big BSP wave across the state and the reports I am getting from the first phase of voting are very positive,” Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati told ANI.

A key state

Uttar Pradesh is a key state that the Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to take over, and gain validation for demonetisation to boot. A total of 73 seats are being fought across 15 districts, all of which the BJP had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

However, the ruling party at the Centre had only won 11 out of these 73 seats in the 2012 UP Assembly elections, a statistic it is desperate to improve on, especially given the ongoing crisis in the Samajwadi Party, which is currently in power.

Months of in-fighting, with Akhilesh Yadav going up against his father and national party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, has fractured the SP’s unity and posed a threat to public confidence in its potential to solve the state’s problems. The SP has allied with the Congress for these elections.

Meanwhile, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party is hoping the fallout from demonetisation and a shaky SP will make her a viable third option. The BSP, continuing with its core Dalit-Muslim focus, has fielded the largest number of Muslim candidates of any party, her key poll plank being deriding communal tensions that have continued to keep the state on edge.

Communal clashes have been reported from all around the state in the past few years, in areas such as Dadri, Shamli, Kairana, Mathura, Bulandshahr and Aligarh. This is coupled with a number of high profile gangrape cases, which the major parties have been squabbling over.

Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal will also look to take on the BJP when it comes to the Jat votes, a votebank that had in part been key to Narendra Modi’s success in 2014.

Polling will be held in seven phases over the next month.