Many memorable firsts in 2017 UP assembly elections
Lucknow, March 10 (IANS) The long, staggered assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, whose results are to be announced on March 11, would be remembered for innumerable reasons. While, like most similar tests at the hustings, this one too had its share of the avoidable -- be it use of words like Kasab, gadha (ass) or below the belt jibes against political opponents, there were many firsts in the staggered, seven-phased polls spread over a month of voting.
It was for the first time since 1999 that Congress President Sonia Gandhi did not campaign in Uttar Pradesh, from where she and her son Rahul Gandhi are members of the Lok Sabha. Citing poor health and doctors' advice, especially after the near-fatal bout of asthma she suffered in Varanasi during a road show last year, she thought it best to avoid the hurly-burly of campaigning.
Samajwadi Party (SP) mentor and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav too largely skipped the campaign and only canvassed for daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav, who is contesting from Lucknow Cantt on an SP ticket, brother Shivpal Singh Yadav in Jaswantnagar and old aide Parasnath Yadav in Ghazipur. This is the first time since he started practising active politics in the 1960s that the Yadav chieftain largely missed a campaign.
Completely sidelined this time by his son and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who edged him out as President of the SP, Mulayam had addressed some 100 rallies in the 2012 assembly polls. Shivpal Singh Yadav, who until not long ago was the number two in the party and its chief strategist, had no work this time around. He was neither invited nor did he go anywhere to campaign for party workers.
The other first from the first family of Uttar Pradesh was the public statements by Mulayam's second wife Sadhna Gupta, who, just hours before the last round in Poorvanchal, gave an hour-long interview to a TV news agency, alleging slight and saying that Akhilesh should not have humiliated ‘Neta-ji'. Largely in the background over the past two decades, this was Sadhna's first outing in public.
It was also for the first time that the Yadav clan stepped out of Saifai to contest state elections. While most members of the Mulayam clan are from in and around the Saifai belt, this time nephew Anurag Yadav was fielded from Sarojininagar and, of course, Aparna Yadav from Lucknow Cantt.
The state polls also had a first in the fact that Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra figured in the list of all phases as a star campaigner though she obliged with just one rally in Rae Bareli, her mother's Lok Sabha constituency. It was also the first time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or for that matter any Prime Minister, spent so much time and energy on a state assembly election.
At the end of the seven-phase polls, Modi had addressed 23 mega rallies and had done two roadshows. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah also got into the "first list" by addressing 210 rallies.
It was, incidentally, also the first time that BJP veterans L.K. Advani and Kanpur MP Murli Manohar Joshi did not hit the campaign trail. Once the faces of all BJP campaigns, they were a complete washout in the Uttar Pradesh polls this time.
Sheila Dixit, the former Delhi Chief Minister, who was pitched as the "UP bahu" and the presumptive Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister before the Congress struck an alliance with the SP, was also nowhere to be seen during the campaign.
For the state police, there were many firsts too. Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljeet Chowdhary said there were "highest seizures of unaccounted money, illicit liquor and illegal vehicles" during the campaign. The state police seized almost Rs 40 crore of the total Rs 119.42 crores of illegal cash caught during elections.
A staggering 2.23 million bulk litres of liquor, costing a whopping Rs 64.17 crore, was seized and 3.62 million people were booked under various sections of the IPC and of the warrants issued against 22,400 people, 21,653 were served. Police also undertook a mammoth task on depositing 870,000 licensed weapons.
"The experience of conducting smooth elections is satisfying," a senior official told IANS, while pointing out that despite a huge influx of VVIPs, there was no untoward incident. Intelligence officials concede that the road shows undertaken by Modi in an open SUV in Varanasi and another SPG protectee, Rahul Gandhi, in Meerut, Agra, Allahabad, Varanasi and Lucknow were "security nightmares". But now that all has ended well, they have heaved a sigh of relief.
Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, while talking to IANS on phone from New Delhi, said there were many firsts for the poll panel too during the Uttar Pradesh elections. "Many first-time initiatives were undertaken by the state CEO -- like launch of many mobile applications for helping voters and a grievance redressal portal," he informed.
Incidentally, it was for the first time that a suspected terrorist was killed in a gun battle on the day of polling -- the last phase in Poorvanchal -- on March 8.