Polling has begun for the fifth phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh with the stakes running higher for all major parties.
The fifth phase will cover 61 Assembly constituencies from 12 districts.
The districts going to polls in this phase include Amethi, Raebareli, Sultanpur, Chitrakoot, Pratapgarh, Kaushambi, Prayagraj, Barabanki, Ayodhya, Bahraich, Shravasti and Gonda.
In 2017, BJP had won 47 Assembly seats while its ally Apna Dal won three in this region. The Samajwadi Party (SP) got five, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got three, Congress two and one independent candidate also won.
This phase is crucial for the BJP and Congress.
This phase includes Ayodhya on which the BJP has built its political innings ever since its inception.
The BJP is again trying to cash in on the Ram temple construction which began in 2021.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in one of his rallies in Ayodhya, said, "Those who fired at 'karsevaks' could have never allowed the temple construction. It is the BJP which made it possible."
For the Congress, this phase includes Amethi and Raebareli where the party needs to revive itself if it wishes to survive in the state. The party had two legislators in Raebareli and both have defected to the BJP.
The Congress is keen to retain a toe-hold in Amethi and Raebareli that were once known as its bastions.
The political climate has changed for all parties in this phase.
The BJP is facing anti-incumbency while the BSP hopes to perform well and emerge as a
kingmaker with this phase.
The SP is determined to improve its 2017 poll performance and is pushing itself towards its goal.
The Awadh and Purvanchal belt have been a strong turf of the BJP since 2017. The 2019 Lok Sabha results just reinforced the belief in the party when it won comprehensively in Uttar Pradesh despite the two formidable caste-based parties, the SP and BSP, coming together.
However, if the farm laws angered farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, it is the stray cattle issue that is troubling the BJP in the fifth phase.
The destruction of crops by stray cattle has become a major issue in the elections and the opposition parties are creating a hype over it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his rally in Bahraich, said the BJP will come out with a new scheme to deal with the issue. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has also promised Rs 900 to those who keep the cows.
SP President Akhilesh Yadav has said if his party comes to power, it will give a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to those who lost their lives while protecting their fields.
Akhilesh Yadav has stitched together an alliance with smaller caste-based parties in this region and hopes that the consolidation of Other Backward Classes will help him gain in this phase.
BSP supremo Mayawati might not have been active in the early stages of campaigning, the party still holds the capability to play spoiler in many seats.
The BSP in many seats has turned the contest into a triangular fight by fielding Muslim candidates. The party has fielded a total of 88 Muslim candidates this time.
The effort of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) to make an entry in Uttar Pradesh politics will be on trial in Bahraich, which has a sizeable Muslim population. AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi has addressed several public meetings and party workers' conferences there.
Interestingly, the constituencies going to polls in the fifth phase have a large number of government employees.
Hence, the promise for restoration of the old pension scheme and regularisation of the services of 'shiksha mitras'(ad-hoc teachers) could be important factors here.