Voting for the seventh and the last phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections began on Monday morning, with 613 candidates in the fray on 54 seats, including those falling in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary segment Varanasi.

The fate of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party president Om Prakash Rajbhar and several State ministers will be decided in this round, in which 2.06 crore people are eligible to vote. Voting will be held from 7 am to 4 pm on the Chakia (Chandauli), Robertsganj and Duddhi (Sonbhadra) seats while in the rest of the segments, it will continue till 6 pm.

The districts going to the polls in this phase are Azamgarh, Mau, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra. Once considered a stronghold of the Samajwadi Party, the region saw the BJP making inroads in 2017 by winning 29 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got six seats and the SP 11.

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rare appearance

For the SP, its patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav made a rare appearance in Jaunpur to drum up support for Lucky Yadav, the son of his long-time associate the late Parasnath Yadav. Lucky Yadav is in the fray from the Malhani seat. Mulayam had earlier campaigned for his son Akhilesh Yadav in the Karhal Assembly segment of Mainpuri.

Besides State Tourism Minister Neelkanth Tiwari (Varanasi South), other ministers in the fray in the last leg of the elections are Anil Rajbhar (Shivpur-Varanasi), Ravindra Jaiswal (Varanasi North), Girish Yadav (Jaunpur) and Ramashankar Singh Patel (Marihan-Mirzapur).

Dara Singh Chauhan, who had resigned from the Yogi Adityanath cabinet and had joined the SP, is contesting from Ghosi in Mau. Om Prakash Rajbhar (Zahoorabad), Dhananjay Singh (Malhani-Jaunpur) as the JD(U) candidate, and Abbas Ansari, the son of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, from Mau Sadar seat, are contesting in this phase.

Campaigning in this phase reached its crescendo with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the BJP's poll blitzkrieg in Varanasi and its adjoining districts. Besides addressing election rallies, he also held a roadshow for three Assembly constituencies in his Lok Sabha segment.

This phase also saw West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee descending on the pilgrim city to hold a joint rally with Akhilesh Yadav and his RLD ally Jayant Chaudhary.

The Gandhis campaign

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been camping in Varanasi for about four days. She, along with her brother Rahul Gandhi, addressed election meetings, whereas BSP supremo Mayawati campaigned in the district and neighbouring areas.

Seeking to override anti-incumbency, the ruling party raised issues like forced migration and law and order problems during the previous SP government, while Akhilesh Yadav targeted the BJP government on the issues of inflation, unemployment, stray cattle, and the farmers' agitation against the Centre’s agriculture laws.

The mowing down of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri was also highlighted by all opposition parties as Union minister Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra is an accused in the case. The State has 403 Assembly seats and the results of the elections will be declared on March 10.