With Punjab slated to go to polls on Saturday, the focus of the 2017 assembly elections has shifted to Uttar Pradesh with all the big players taking centre stage on Friday.
Seventy-three constituencies of western UP will go to polls in the first phase on February 11 followed by 67 in the second phase on February 15.
In popular perception, the SP-Congress alliance is pitted against the BJP with the BSP being the dark horse.
Western UP, rocked by Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, may set the tone for the other rounds of voting.
Making it a blockbuster day on the poll front, BJP chief Amit Shah, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is also the Samajwadi Party (SP) national president, and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati were all in west UP on the same day, albeit in different cities.
Shah cancelled his Friday ‘padytra’ to protest the killing of a trader in Meerut on Thursday night. He attacked the Akhilesh Yadav government over the law and order situation. Shah said the chief minister must give a reply on killing of a young trader.
Calling Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi as ‘Shahzade’, Shah said: “The two ‘Shahzade’ will jointly address the press in the afternoon and I demand their reply on killing of a young trader.”
The incident took place on Shah’s padyatra route, forcing him to cancel the same and instead show solidarity with the aggrieved family.
He claimed 24 incidents of rape, 21 of attempt to rape and 13 murders takes place in the state every day.
His comment came hours before Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav held a joint 12-kilometre road show in Agra on Friday.
Amidst loud cheers from supporters and a ‘victory song’ blaring on loudspeakers, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav held ‘UP Vijay Rath’ yatra in Agra on Friday evening.
The roads how began from Dayalbagh, famous for the Radhasaomisect, almost an hour behind schedule because of the delayed arrival of Rahul Gandhi from Delhi by air. Rahul Gandhi could reach Dayalbagh at 4.20 pm. Within minutes, the yatra began. Both Akhilesh and Rahul stood atop the white campaign vehicle and waved at the crowd as the rath began moving. This is the first joint poll campaign by Rahul-Akhilesh in western UP. The road show culminated at Agra Fort.
Akhilesh took part in the road show after addressing three rallies in Firozabad. In one of the rallies, he took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive where people were standing in long queues outside bank ATMs. He said the voters in the state election will stand in line to oust the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).
Akhilesh also took potshots at the BJP for making promise of providing Rs 15 lakh out of black money to be brought back from foreign banks abroad.
“Nobody is left with currency of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denomination. Now you (Modi Government) have all the money and at least give Rs 15,000 to people instead of 15 lakh,” he added.
Earlier on January 29, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh in their maiden joint road show in Lucknow shared tight hugs and warm handshake besides donning same coloured jackets.
If the PM was targeteted by Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati lost no time on training guns on the Akhilesh government, accusing it of failing to provide adequate security in the state. She alleged that this led to a big exodus from UP.
Addressing a gathering at exhibition ground in Muzaffarnagar, Mayawati said due to the poor law and order situation in the state, there was anarchy and riots, communal tension, loot, kidnapping and land grabbing had increased.
She also hit out the BJP-led central government on demonetisation.
With the parties revving up their campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address a rally in Aligarh on February 5.
(with inputs from Vashistha Bhardwaj in Muzaffarnagar and agencies)