The Ëlection Commission on Wednesday said the "very sensitive" second phase in Uttar Pradesh, during which polling was held in 67 Assembly constituencies, passed off peacefully and overall mood made it appear like a "festival of democracy".
A total of 2.28 crore voters, including over 1.04 crore women, were eligible to cast their votes in 14,771 polling centres and 23,693 polling stations in the second of the seven-phase polling. Here are the key reasons why the second phase of Uttar Pradesh polls hogged the limelight.
Good turnout not necessarily hints at anti-incumbency
"Polling was held peacefully amid tight security," UP Chief Electoral Officer T Venkatesh said. The CEO office said the average turnout was over 65 percent in these seats. The voter turnout in the first phase was recorded at 64.2 percent - an increase of nearly three percent from the first phase turnout in the 2012 state Assembly polls.
As Firstpost author Akshaya Mishra observed, the general misconception is higher voting means more anti-incumbency votes. A study of earlier elections establishes that there is no co-relation between results and higher or lower turn-out. It only indicates that voter mobilisation has been better this time. It means parties have spent more energy at the booth level. But votes could go any way.
First-time voters were seen enthusiastic, taking selfies and proudly showing off the indelible ink imprint on their fingers.
Identity politics still a factor
Firstpost author Sreemoy Talukdar reported that as the second phase of Assembly polling concluded in Uttar Pradesh, it is quite apparent that there is still a long way to go before identity politics becomes less of a factor in the electoral game.
The dominant narrative in all the 11 districts that are polling on Wednesday was whether or not the Muslim votes will splinter between SP, BSP, AIMIM and help BJP or whether the minority community members will vote tactically to keep Narendra Modi's party away. All through the campaign right till the day of polling, there was little focus on the economic well-being of Muslims.
Muslim women clad in burqas were seen outside several booths, while the photograph of a newly married couple going to cast vote in Bareilly went viral on social media. Of the 67 seats at stake, the ruling Samajwadi Party had won 34 seats in the 2012 polls, followed by BSP 18, BJP 10, Congress three and others two.
BSP prefers to go the digital way
Raring to wrest power from arch-rival SP, the BSP has changed tack and gone for a different brand of campaign — a departure from its earlier methods.
The BSP has not only got an audio-visual campaign stitched up to tell voters how Mayawati is a harbinger of social change but to remind them of the better law and order in 2007-12 when she was the chief minister.
The BSP has never been known to woo the media. This time, the party mandarins are not only in touch with journalists but are sending regular press releases in PDF format using WhatsApp, SMS and emails.
The party is also extensively using the social media network, something Mayawati had ridiculed not so long ago.
Meanwhile, at a rally in Kannauj, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the recent BJP wins in Kannauj rally, says people have rejected SP-Congress combine.
Second phase determining factor for SP-Congress
Firstpost writer Sanjay Singh said this phase of election was supremely important for the SP-Congress combine as the majority of the 67 seats have an overwhelmingly Muslim population.
The underlying purpose behind the alliance between Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and Sonia-Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party was the consolidation of Muslim votes for the combine. Akhilesh Yadav on several occasions said there was a confusion among some people about Samajwadi's prospects to return to power but after a tie-up with Congress that confusion is gone. If SP-Congress has to come to power, it needs to sweep this phase.
The BJP is banking on some split in Muslim votes between SP-BSP and AIMIM. The BJP is also looking for a situation where aggressive polling by Muslim community members could consolidate Hindutva votes in its favor. Latent Hindutva sentiment is there in sections of Hindu voters but the key question is how much of that is translating into votes.
The BSP had fielded some strong candidates on the ground. The party has also got a number of influential Muslim clerics and community groups to issue an appeal in its favor. Despite Supreme Court order, Mayawati has been openly talking about importance of Muslim votes. Will that yield dividend to her? As it is she has the solid backing of Dalits, particularly Jatavas.
Meanwhile, elaborate arrangements were made for free and fair polling with the deployment of 51,771 police constables, 52,598 homeguards, 5,397 sub-inspectors and 3,666 head constables to maintain law and order. The Election Commission barred political parties and candidates from publishing advertisements in newspapers on Wednesday and Thursday without its approval.
The poll body has asked them to get the advertisements pre-certified from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee at the state and district levels before their publication. The Commission said the decision was taken in view of past instances of advertisements of "offending and misleading nature" in print media on such occasions, which vitiate the elections.
The upcoming five phases of polling will be held on 19, 23, 27 February and on 4 and 8 March. Counting of votes will be taken up on 11 March.(with inputs from agencies)
Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 22:06 PM