Lucknow, Feb 11 (IANS): Bright and sunny weather saw a large turnout at polling booths in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday where balloting is being held in 59 constituencies spread across nine districts in the second phase of the staggered Assembly elections.
More than 40 percent turnout was reported by 3 pm.
The Election Commission is expecting a significant jump in the voting percentage over what was witnessed during the corresponding phase at the last Assembly election in 2007.
"Going by the visible ascending trend since the morning, it is clear that the voting will go well beyond 60 percent, leaving the 2007 tally of a paltry 46.7 percent far behind," chief electoral officer Umesh Sinha told IANS.
Besides the sunny weather, the enthusiasm of first-time youth voters also took the turnout to a new high.
According to Sinha, "an unusually high turnout was reported from Kushinagar, where nearly 50 percent voters had cast their vote by 1 p.m."
Different political parties seem to view the impressive turnout from their respective angles.
The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that in 2007 bagged as many as 30 of the 59 seats falling in this area, claimed it as an indication of a major swing in its favour. "I am quite confident that our party will retain all of 30 seats we had won last time," claimed a key BSP functionary.
However, the Congress sees the high turnout of youth as a reflection of the surge for Rahul Gandhi, while Samajwadi Party was ready to give itself a substantial jump from its last tally of six. "All the anti-incumbency votes against Mayawati will come to us," claimed SP spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary, who seemed confident of the tables being turned against BSP.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Gorakhpur felt that the party would definitely make a significant gain. "It would be in BJP's political interest not to align with any political party," said Yogi Adityanath, the party's saffron-clad Lok Sabha MP from Gorakhpur.
As many as 1.97 crore voters are to decide the fate of 1,098 candidates in the fray for the second phase polling for 59 of UP's 403 state assembly seats. Other than Gorakhpur, the districts going to poll today are Azamgarh, Ballia, Ghazipur, Maharajganj, Deoria, Mau, Sant Kabir Nagar and Kushinagar, where 20,426 polling stations with some 20,800 electronic voting machines (EVM) were in place.
The phase is crucial for the ruling BSP, which had bagged as many as 30 of the 59 seats at the last state assembly election in 2007. While Samajwadi Party (SP) won 21 seats, BJP got six 6 and Congress trailed last with two seats here.
A number of prominent leaders including 30 sitting MLAs and 21 former ministers are in fray. Prominent among those whose prestige was at stake were UP Assembly speaker Sukhdeo Rajbhar, BJP state president Surya Pratap Shahi, BSP state chief Swami Prasad Maurya, dreaded mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari as well as Peace Party president Dr. Ayub.
Significantly, SP has fielded Aman Mani Tripathi, the son of jailed mafia don-turned- politician Amarmani Tripathi, who stood convicted for the murder of Hindi poetess Madhumita Shukla, his girlfriend.
A police force of over 120,000 cops, including about 55,000 central para-military personnel and 10,000 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), is in place to maintain strict vigil in the crime-prone, communally-sensitive and poverty-ridden vast expanse of eastern Uttar Pradesh.