New Delhi: In the battle for the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, political parties pulled out all the stops as they sent out their loftiest leaders to do a majority of the campaigning.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a lot of heavy lifting for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Hindi heartland state, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressed over 200 rallies in person. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, who addressed 147 rallies, was a distant second, followed by Samajwadi Party chief and former CM Akhilesh Yadav, who addressed 117 rallies, according to information provided by their respective parties.
The Election Commission (EC) had put a ban on election rallies and roadshows until 15 January this year amid a surge in Covid cases, largely due to the Omicron variant. The ban was extended twice — first till 22 January, and then 31 January.
As a result, parties started with virtual rallies, and as restrictions eased, began hosting massive public gatherings addressed by their biggest and most powerful names.
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Modi & Yogi, the ‘double engine’ duo
PM Modi addressed 24 public rallies and five virtual rallies in the state, in his bid to boost his party’s election campaign. The in-person number is the same as what he had registered in the 2017 state assembly elections, which the BJP had contested in his name, without any chief ministerial candidate. Adityanath was named CM after the declaration of results.
This time, though the BJP had a chief minister and his works to showcase, Modi still led from the front. Ground reports earlier suggested that while there were some sentiments of anti-incumbency against the BJP government, especially over issues like unemployment and stray cattle, the PM’s popularity remained intact.
Modi kick-started his offline campaign on 10 February by holding his first public rally in Saharanpur, and concluded it with one in Varanasi Saturday, days before his home constituency was to vote in the seventh and last phase of the state polls on 7 March. He had also addressed a rally there earlier.
In the 2017 election campaign, Modi was initially supposed to address 12 rallies, but ended up speaking at 24. However, this year, the nature of the campaign had to undergo slight variations due to Covid restrictions. The PM started his month-long campaign by addressing his first ‘Jan Chaupal’ virtual meeting on 31 January. He addressed five virtual rallies before holding his first in-person rally on 10 February. His campaign during the 2017 election also ran for 30 days.
The PM’s efforts were multiplied by his “double-engine” government partner CM Yogi Adityanath, who left everyone behind in terms of the number of public rallies he addressed during assembly polls in the state. Yogi addressed more than 200 public rallies over the course of the seven-phase election for the 403-seat assembly, according to party estimates.
Home Minister Amit Shah held around 60 rallies and roadshows, while BJP president J.P. Nadda also addressed close to 40. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke at around 40 rallies in his home state.
In its rallies, the BJP focussed on the “double-engine” government, welfare schemes launched by the PM amid the pandemic, along with mentions of Kashmir, the under-construction Ram temple in Ayodhya, as well as law and order. Apart from targeting a large number of voters through public rallies, the party also campaigned through ‘Prabhavi Matdata Samvad’ with a limited audience, as well as door-to-door campaigns by its karyakartas (workers) on ground.
Priyanka’s ‘Ladki hoon…’ campaign, & team Akhilesh-Mamata
As far as opposition parties go, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a backseat as he addressed just three rallies in the state. However, his sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi hosted 147 rallies.
The Congress campaign led by Priyanka caught early attention due to its flagship ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ campaign, promising 40 per cent tickets to women candidates and other benefits such as two-wheelers and smartphones to woo the women voters of the state.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav held 117 rallies while Bahujan Samaj Party chief and former CM Mayawati did only 18 in-person rallies during the election. Akhilesh also held ‘Rath Yatras’, ‘Nukkad Sabha’ and ‘Vijay Yatras’.
Akhilesh targeted the BJP government on issues like inflation, unemployment, stray cattle and the farmers’ agitation against the now-repealed farm laws. His speeches included several potshots at CM Yogi Adityanath.
Meanwhile, Priyanka questioned the government on caste and religion-based politics, among other issues.
The high-octane campaign also saw the participation of political leaders from other states such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who held a joint rally with Akhilesh and his ally and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary in Varanasi.
Elections results will be declared Thursday.
(With inputs from Shikha Salaria)
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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