Lucknow: Most of the 14 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs in the fifth and last phase of the polls in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday have large Muslim populations, a factor is likely to determine the fate of the 203 candidates in the fray.
Fifteen women are among the candidates in Rampur, Pilibhit, Budaun, Moradabad, Dhaurahra, Bijnore, Bareilly, Aonla, Shahjahanpur, Kheri, Sambhal, Amroha, Nagina and Saharanpur - spread across several districts of western Uttar Pradesh and the agriculturally-rich Terai belt.
According to a demographic study, at least 10 of the 14 constituencies have a relatively high percentage of Muslim voters, known for turning out to vote in huge numbers.
"The Muslim vote would hold the key in this phase of the poll," says All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member Zafaryab Jilani, who strongly believes that Muslims "would do their best to keep communal parties like the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) away".
About 1.95 crore voters will decided the fate of candidates in the fifth phase at 20,807 polling booths manned by over 100,000 polling personnel, 42 observers and 330 micro-observers.
With more than 2,00,000 security personnel will be detailed for the entire election process in the 14 constituencies and the deployment has been nearly doubled in comparison to the earlier phases of polling.
However, UP's Deputy Chief Election Officer Atiq Ahmad said the increase in security deployment was not because of any enhanced apprehension of breach of peace, but simply because of easy availability of forces since the election was over in all other parts of the state and in many parts of the country.
Prominent candidates in the fray include filmstar-turned-politician Jaya Prada on a Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket in Rampur, fighting a tough battle against the Congress' Noor Bano; BJP's Varun Gandhi, facing a keen contest against the Congress' V.M. Singh in Pilibhit; BJP's Maneka Gandhi against Kunwar Sarvraj Singh of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Aonla; cricketer-turned-politician Mohammad Azharuddin (Congress) against the BJP's Sarvesh Kumar Singh in Moradabad; and Jitin Prasada of the Congress against BSP's Rajesh Verma in Dhaurahra.
Bijnore acquires its importance from its past association with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who had won her first Lok Sabha election from here in 1989. This time, with the BSP fielding journalist turned politician Shahid Siddiqui, who switched loyalties from SP, Mayawati was busy reminding voters of that old link.
Another contest in the spotlight is Budaun, where the prestige of three political bigwigs is at stake. After SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav cancelled the candidature of five time winner Saleem Sherwani in favour of his nephew Dharmendra Yadav, Sherwani left the party and is now contesting on a Congress ticket. However, playing spoilsport for both is mafia don turned politician D P Yadav (BSP), who faces charges including murder, kidnapping and extortion.
Most of these constituencies were visited by the senior leaders of the parties. Leaders like Mulayam Singh had addressed as many as four meetings in Budaun, where his son Akhilesh Yadav and brother Shivpal Yadav too had spared no effort to woo the voters.
The SP chief was also concentrating on Rampur where Jaya Prada is facing a tough challenge due to the revolt by Mulayam's one-time close confidante Azam Khan. There is a virtual fight on between Khan and party General Secretary Amar Singh, compelling the party leadership to pump in all its energies to deal with the rift.
BJP's new found Hindutva mascot Varun Gandhi's alleged "hate speeches" had turned him into a celebrity of sorts, making Pilibhit one of the most talked about constituencies. Even though everyone in Pilibhit acknowledges the merit of Congress candidate V M Singh, who is hailed as a "messiah of farmers and the poor", a sharp communal divide appeared to be giving an edge to Gandhi.
Having inherited the seat from his mother Maneka Gandhi, who won the seat five times, Gandhi already had a captive vote even though her contribution to the development of this backward and obscure constituency was negligible. Maneka, who had moved to the neighbouring Aonla seat, is looking forward to a similar Hindu and Sikh polarisation in her favour there.
In Moradabad, Azharuddin had not only added a high profile touch to a communally sensitive constituency, but the Congress is banking heavily on the high Muslim population which may go en bloc for the once-popular cricketer.