Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi addresses an election rally in Etawah. PTI photo
The fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections on Sunday has a major focus on Lucknow where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tries to retain its sway in the second election it faces where party stalwart and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajayee is absent.
In the 2007 assembly elections, the charisma of Vajpayee, the sitting MP from the city, had swept the BJP to victory in all the four city constituencies while the four rural seats were split between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).
In the polling Sunday, as many as 1.72 crore voters will elect their representatives for 56 assembly constituencies spread across 11 districts - Lucknow, Hardoi, Unnao, Rae Bareli, Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar (Amethi), Farrukhabad, Kannauj, Banda, Chitrakoot, Fatehpur and Pratapgarh.
Besides Vajpayee, other political bigwigs whose prestige and influence are at stake in this phase are Congress president Sonia Gandhi (who represents Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency), party general secretary Rahul Gandhi (Amethi) and Samajwadi Party state president Akhilesh Yadav (Kannauj).
It will be an acid test for the ruling BSP which has the maximum at stake, since the party had bagged 25 of the 56 seats in 2007.
The Samajwadi Party also was not far behind with a tally of 14, while the BJP and the Congress had bagged seven seats each and two seats had gone to Independents.
The phase is also crucial for several key political leaders who are either in the fray themselves or have fielded their close kin.
Prominent among them is state Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi (Lucknow Cantt), Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and eight-time legislator Pramod Tiwari (Rampur Khas in Pratapgarh) as well as controversial politician Raguraj Pratap Singh, better known as Raja Bhaiya, in the fray as Independent from Kunda.
Union law minister Salman Khurshid's wife Louise Khurshid is seeking re-election from their family home Farrukhabad, Congress MP Sanjay Singh's wife Amita is contesting from Amethi, and SP Lok Sabha member Naresh Agrawal’s son Nitin Agrawal is trying his luck from the family bastion Hardoi.
Lucknow BJP MP Lalji Tandon's son Gopal Tandon is the party candidate in Lucknow West, held for years by his father, who later succeeded Vajpayee as the local MP.
State BSP chief and cooperative minister Swami Prasad Maurya's son Utkrisht Maurya is fighting his maiden election from Unchahar in Rae Bareli district.
Slain dacoit Dadua's son Vir Singh is in the fray as an SP nominee from Banda, while mafia don turned politician Akhilesh Singh, who has been winning the Rae Bareli city seat for several years, as an Independent, is now seeking re-election as a nominee of the Peace Party.
Yet another significant candidate in Sunday's contest is woman activist Sampat Pal, widely known for her daredevil acts as head of a women’s army known as Gulabi Gang, from Karvi in the Chitrakoot tribal belt.