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High-stake elections, seen as litmus test for Modi, wrap up; all eyes on Saturday results

New Delhi: The two-month long assembly elections in five states, marked by frequent name- calling, ended on Wednesday, with all eyes on the March 11 results that will be seen as a virtual referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity after his demonetisation decision.

The most interest is in the results of Uttar Pradesh where Modi and his BJP party colleagues pulled out all stops during the campaigning for voting that was spread across seven phases.

Over 60 per cent turnout was recorded in the last phase in UP today, taking the voting percentage to nearly 61 in the staggered elections for 403-member Assembly.

Manipur witnessed a turnout of about 86 per cent in the second phase today with an overall voting percentage of 85 for 60-member House.

Elections were also held in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. Exit polls will be released tomorrow.

The election is being billed as a litmus test for Modi as the BJP largely banked on his popularity in its bid for power, especially in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh where it has been out of government for 15 years.

It is also the first major election after the demonetisation decision on November 8 last year.

The political discourse during campaigning in Uttar Pradesh was dominated by name-calling with offensive acronyms being freely used to attack political opponents.

In his rallies, Modi ridiculed the opposition alliance of SP and Congress, saying they together stood for ‘SCAM.’ and dubbed Mayawati’s BSP as ‘Behenji Sampatti Party,’ a reference to allegations that Mayawati who is popularly known as “behenji” has accumulated a large amount of wealth.

Not to be outdone, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav came out with his own take on SCAM, saying it stood for ‘Save Country from Amit (Shah) and Modi’. His remark asking megastar Amitabh Bachchan not to endorse donkeys of Gujarat also left the BJP fuming.

There were also allegations that the BJP was trying to polarise the electorate after Modi’s ‘kabristan and shamshan ghat’ remarks.

The last leg of the polls saw Modi camping in his Lok Sabha seat Varanasi for three days and holding roadshows which were followed by a similar show of strength by Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi with his ally, Samajwadi Party chief Yadav.

The two leaders promised to make a government of youth, released a common minimum programme and campaigned together. Their alliance came under severe attack from the BJP, which called it an act of desperation.

Modi raised the issues of corruption, demonetisation, surgical strikes and ‘One Rank, One Pension’ to attack his opponents besides listing the achievements of his nearly three-year rule. He addressed over two dozen rallies in the campaign across the states, giving his all in the high-stake elections.

The Congress and other opposition parties hit out at the PM, saying his actions do not behove his position and raised questions on the performace of his government.

In Punjab, 73 per cent polling was witnessed on February 4 while Goa had a record-breaking 83 per cent voter turnout.

Traditional rivals, the BJP and the Congress, are locked in a keen electoral battle in the two states where Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP has made its maiden foray in the assembly elections, seeking to play a killjoy for the two major contenders for power.

It is the first outing for Aam Aadmi Party in assembly elections outside Delhi where it rules with an overwhelming majority in the state assembly and it is being keenly watched if it succeeds in its claim of upsetting the applecart of the two major national parties.

In Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance is battling anti-incumbency while Amarinder Singh is leading Congress’ bid to return to power after ten years in the 117-member state assembly.

In Goa, an alliance of MGP, Shiv Sena and GSM is also competing for the 40-member House. The ruling BJP, which had a pre-poll alliance in 2012, went alone this time after the MGP snapped the partnership and forged a front with Goa Suraksha Manch floated by RSS rebel Subhas Velingkar and Shiv Sena.

Over 68 per cent votes were cast in Uttarakhand on February 15, two per cent more than the last assembly polls, in 69 out of the state’s 70 seats.

Following the demise of two candidates in the Alapur (UP) and the Karnaprayag (Uttarakhand) constituencies, the Commission had postponed elections there and fixed March 9 as the new date.

Congress and BJP, which have been traditionally the main contenders in the hill state, are locked in a straight contests in most of the seats but presence of about a dozen rebel candidates in the fray as independents may upset the calculations of the official nominees of their respective parties.

12 former Congress MLAs, who are contesting this time as BJP candidates, have made these elections interesting.

PTI