The election process got underway in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday with notification for the first phase of Assembly polls which will be a litmus test for union minister Beni Prasad Verma and National Commission for Scheduled Caste Chairman PL Punia.
In the first phase, 55 constituencies spread over 10 districts--Sitapur, Gonda, Basti, Bahraich, Balrampur Barabanki, Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Siddharth Nagar and Shravasti are going on polls which will be held on February 8.
The phase will decide the fate of 15 former ministers, three sitting ministers and 31 MLAs.
Gonda Congress MP Beni's prestige would be at stake not only in seven assembly constituencies of his parliamentary area but also in Barabanki with his son Rakesh Verma contesting from Dariyabad seat there.
Barabanki Congress MP, PL Punia's Dalit card and influence in the area would also be under keen observation in six constituencies of his area
Both Verma, known for his say in Kurmi vote bank and Punia, Dalit face of Congress would have the herculean task of ensuring maximum number of seats for the Congress, which had secured only three of the 55 seats in 2007 assembly polls.
As far as ticket distribution is concered, Verma had ruled the roost and succeeded in ensuring tickets to his loyalists and also turncoats from Samajwadi Party.
Congress leaders are hoping that party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's visit in the areas going to polls would boost their prospects.
Rahul had covered various constituencies in Bahraich, Gonda, Barabanki, Sitapur, Basti districts during his visits and held a series of public meetings.
Also, Congress leader and MP Jagdambika Pal, whose son Abhishek Pal is contesting from Basti Sadar seat has also been camping in his constituency to ensure victory of his son--a first timer in political battle.
For Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had secured maximum of 30 seats out of 55 seats in the 2007 assembly polls it would be a fight to increase its tally.
Samajwadi Party (SP) is also aiming to increase its tally from 18 seats in the 2007 assembly polls.
SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had recently held a rally in Barabanki and promised people to rid them of the "misrule and corruption" of BSP, which he considered SP's main opponent.
The party's performance in the region could help it in catapulting itself to power, SP leaders feel.
As far as BJP, which talks of "Ramrajya", is concerned despite Faizabad and Ayodhya falling in this phase, the party's performance has not been upto the mark in past elections.
In 2007, it had succeeded in getting victory in four seats only. This time party leaders Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra had taken out yatras, which culminated in Ayodhya with a rally to muster support for the party but it had not generated much enthusiasm among voters especially post Babu Singh Kushwaha episode.
Kushwaha, an accused in bungling in NRHM funds had joined BJP but later his induction was suspended. His entry had given a chance to rivals to corner BJP on the issue of corruption.
Going by the 2007 record on seats going to polls in first phase, BSP had won 30 seats while SP secured 18, BJP four and Congress a meagre three seats only.
Prominent candidates in this phase include former Vidhan Sabha speaker Mata Prasad Pandey, former PWD Minister Arvind Singh Gope, former minister Waqar Ahmad Shah, Mitrasen Yadav, Abhay Singh of Samajwadi Party, Parliamentary Affairs minister Lalji Verma from BSP, Ammar Rizvi, Rakesh Verma (Beni's son), Abhishek Pal of Congress and former minister in BSP government Daddan Mishra from BJP.