Panaji/Dehradun/Lucknow: Voting will be held on Monday in all assembly seats in Goa and Uttarakhand, besides 55 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh in the second phase of the state polls, with chief ministers Pramod Sawant and Pushkar Singh Dhami, former CM Harish Rawat and jailed Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan among the prominent candidates in the fray.
It is a high-stakes election for the ruling BJP and a litmus test for the Modi government's policies that have been targeted by the Congress, AAP and other opposition parties during their campaign.
The coastal state of Goa, with over 11 lakh voters, has 301 candidates contesting from 40 Assembly seats, while in Uttarakhand, which has an electorate of 81 lakh, 632 candidates, including 152 independents, are fighting from 70 seats.
Tight security arrangements were in place in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh where 586 candidates are contesting in this phase from 55 seats spread across the districts of Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Amroha, Budaun, Bareilly and Shahjahanpur.
Over 60,000 police personnel and nearly 800 companies (around 100 security personnel each) of paramilitary forces will be on duty on the election day, officials said, adding 4,917 polling booths out of 12,538 are considered "critical".
“Eight assembly constituencies of Nagina, Dhampur, Bijnor, Asmoli, Sambhal, Deoband, Rampur Maniharan and Gangoh have been placed in the 'sensitive' category,” the UP police said in a statement.
Traditionally Goa and Uttarakhand have seen bipolar politics, but they are witnessing a multi-cornered contest this time with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) throwing its hat in the ring.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) and other smaller parties are also vying to make a mark on Goa's electoral scene.
Campaigning was affected by COVID-19 restrictions which were gradually relaxed by the Election Commission in the last couple of weeks.
Election officials said all arrangements have been made to conduct polling while following COVID-19 protocols.
Over 100 all-women polling booths called 'Sakhi' or pink booths have been set up in each state this time to encourage the participation of women in the polling process, according to officials.
Also, some booths will be manned by differently-abled persons.
Voting will begin at 8 AM and conclude at 6 PM in Uttarakhand where there will be 11,697 polling booths. It will be the fifth assembly election to be held in the hill state after its creation in 2000.
Important candidates whose fate is to be decided in these polls include Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, his cabinet colleagues Satpal Maharaj, Subodh Uniyal, Arvind Pandey, Dhan Singh Rawat and Rekha Arya besides state BJP president Madan Kaushik.
Prominent candidates from the Congress include former chief minister Harish Rawat, former minister Yashpal Arya, state Congress president Ganesh Godiyal and Leader of Opposition in the fourth assembly Pritam Singh.
Seeking a second consecutive term for the BJP, its stalwarts have warned voters against the Congress' "policy of appeasement" and have highlighted the road, rail and air connectivity projects underway in the state and the ones in the pipeline besides the reconstruction of Kedarnath over the past five years.
They have sought votes in the name of a double-engine government for the state's uninterrupted development while the Congress, which is trying to gain lost ground after its rout in 2017 assembly polls, has raised the issues of inflation, unemployment and change of chief ministers in quick succession.
The BJP had won 57 out of the 70 seats in Uttarakhand in the last assembly polls limiting Congress to just 11. Two seats had gone to Independents.
The AAP, which is contesting all 70 assembly constituencies, has offered a slew of freebies including free electricity up to 300 units to every household, Rs 1,000 per month to every woman above 18 years, jobs to every household and an unemployment allowance of Rs 5,000 per month to them until they get the job.
The prominent candidates in Goa include Chief Minister Pramod Sawant (BJP), Leader of the Opposition Digambar Kamat (Congress), former CMs Churchill Alemao (TMC), Ravi Naik (BJP), Laxmikant Parsekar (independent), former deputy CMs Vijai Sardesai (GFP) and Sudin Dhavalikar (MGP), late CM Manohar Parrikar's son Utpal Parrikar and AAP's CM face Amit Paleker.
The Congress and the Goa Forward Party (GFP) are fighting the election in alliance, while the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC has joined hands with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP).
The Shiv Sena and the NCP had also announced their pre-poll alliance, while the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is contesting on its own.
The Revolutionary Goans, Goencho Swabhimaan Party, Jai Mahabharat Party and Sambhaji Brigade are also in the poll fray, besides 68 independent candidates.
The state had recorded an 82.56 percent turnout during the 2017 elections. The Congress had at that time won 17 seats, while the BJP bagged 13.
The BJP had then quickly stitched up an alliance with some regional outfits and independents to form government in the state.
In Uttar Pradesh, polling will be held from 7 AM to 6 PM.
Of the 55 seats going to polls in this phase, the BJP had won 38 in 2017, while the Samajwadi Party had bagged 15 and the Congress two. The SP and the Congress had contested the last Assembly election in an alliance.
The areas going to the polls in this phase have a sizeable Muslim population influenced by religious leaders of the Barelvi and Deoband sects and are considered to be the strongholds of the Samajwadi Party.
The prominent faces in the fray in this phase include Dharam Singh Saini, a BJP state minister who had switched to the SP.
SP's Azam Khan has been fielded from his stronghold Rampur seat, while Saini is trying his luck from the Nakud Assembly segment. Khan is a member of Lok Sabha from Rampur.
Khan's son Abdullah Azam has been fielded from the Swar seat. He has been pitted against Haider Ali Khan, the heir of another political family, the Nawabs of Rampur, who is trying his luck on the ticket of Apna Dal (Sonelal), a BJP ally.
Outgoing Minister of State for Jal Shakti Baldev Singh Aulakh is the candidate from Bilaspur, Minister of State for Urban Development Mahesh Chandra Gupta from Badaun, and Minister of State for Secondary Education Gulab Devi from Chandausi.
The first round of the seven-phase Uttar Pradesh polls was held on February 10.
The counting of votes will be on March 10. PTI