From Sangeet Som, Pankaj Singh to Baby Rani Maurya, the main battles to watch today

It’s D-Day for parties in Uttar Pradesh as India’s most populous state votes in Phase 1 of seven-phase assembly elections billed as a direct contest between the BJP led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the state and the combined SP-RLD represented by Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary. There are nearly 615 candidates vying for the 58 constituencies that will go to the polls on Thursday. In the 2017 polls, the BJP won 53 of the aforementioned 58 seats spread across 11 western UP districts. As this is a Jat-dominated region, RLD is seen as a key player in this phase.

Here’s a look at the top election battles to watch today:

Noida: Pankaj Singh (BJP) vs. Sunil Choudhary (SP) vs. Pankhuri Pathak (Congress): It is a litmus test for the BJP as Defense Minister and the son of former UP CM Rajnath Singh, Pankaj Singh, is seeking re-election in Noida. This seat falls under the district of Gautam Buddha Nagar. In the 2017 election, Singh edged SP’s Sunil Choudhary by a margin of 1,04,016 votes. While SP has Choudhary lined up again, BSP and AAP are represented by Kripa Ram Sharma and Pankaj Avana. This time there is another strong challenger in Congress, Pankhuri Pathak, who was a former SP spokesperson.

Kairana: Nahid Hasan (SP) vs. Mriganka Singh (BJP): In the headlines of alleged exodus of Hindu families, this constituency falls under Kairana Lok Sabha segment and is part of Shamli district. While BJP veteran Hukum Singh won that seat from 1996, he was snatched away by SP’s Nahid Hasan in 2014 after the resigned former post in the Lok Sabha was elected. Also in the 2017 elections, Hasan defeated the daughter of late BJP leader Mriganka Singh by 21,162 votes. SP has come under fire for renaming Nahid Hasan as he faces multiple criminal cases relating to fraud and extortion.

Thana Bhawan: Suresh Kumar (BJP) vs. Ashraf Ali (RLD): UP Minister Suresh Kumar has won Thana Bhawan twice in a row and is seeking a third term as MP amid protests from sugarcane farmers over pending dues. The SP RLD ally fielded Ashraf Ali who lost to Kumar by a narrow margin of 265 votes in the 2012 polls. Ali is the former chairman of Jalalabad City Council.

Agra Rural: Baby Rani Maurya (BJP) vs. Mahesh Kumar (RLD): Former Uttarakhand Governor Baby Rani Maurya was mayor of Agra from 1995 to 2000. She narrowly lost to her BSP opponent from the Etmadpur seat in the Assembly polls of 2007. On August 26, 2018, she was sworn in as Governor of Uttarakhand, becoming the second female Governor of the state after Margaret Alva. She resigned from her position on September 8, 2021 and was appointed Vice President of the BJP by JP Nadda 12 days later. In 2017, BJP’s Hemlata Diwakar comfortably won Agra Rural. The other candidates are Upendra Singh from Congress, Kiran Prabha Keshari from BSP and Mahesh Kumar from RLD.

Muzaffarnagar: Kapil Dev Aggarwal (BJP) vs. Saurabh (RLD): Like Kairana, Muzaffarnagar also grabbed headlines with BJP leaders combing through the riots during the election campaign. While BJP’s Kapil Dev Aggarwal, who is the UP Minister for Vocational Training and Skills Development, has held the seat since 2015, he won by narrow margins. For example, he defeated Gaurav Swarup Bansal of the SP by 10,704 votes in the previous elections. This time, RLD nominated Saurabh while Congress nominated Subodh Sharma from this seat.

Mathura: Shrikant Sharma (BJP) vs. Pradeep Mathur (Congress): As speculation swirled that UP MP Keshav Prasad Maurya was eyeing that seat, the BJP gave the ticket to the State Minister for Energy and Additional Power Sources, Shrikant Sharma. In the last assembly election, Sharma beat Congress’s Pradeep Mathur by a staggering margin of 1,01,161 votes. Mathur, who held the seat from 2002 to 2017, was again nominated by the Congress party. On the other hand, SP fielded former MP for Sadabad, Devendra Agrawal.

Sardhana: Sangeet Som (BJP) vs Atul Pradhan (SP): The Muzaffarnagar riots accused Sangeet Som of being Sardhana’s BJP pick. He was arrested on September 20, 2013 for allegedly uploading a fake video which allegedly played a role in sparking communal tensions. Som won by 2012 as well as 2017. On the other hand, Atul Pradhan is the SP candidate. This is considered an interesting contest due to the impact of farmer unrest and the perception of anti-incumbency.

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