As many as 2.4 crore voters will exercise their franchise in 16 constituencies which go to poll in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in India's [ Images ] most populous state, Uttar Pradesh [ Images ] on April 16.
More than 1.25 lakh security personnel will take care of 26,279 polling stations to be manned by about 110,000 polling personnel.
Uttar Pradesh is the only state other than Jammu and Kashmir [ Images ], where the polling will be spread across each of the five phases. While in J&K it was one constituency in each phase, there were 14-18 seats in every phase in UP.
The key contests in UP's first phase are likely to be witnessed in nine of the 16 constituencies that go to poll on April 16. These include Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Deoria, Ballia, Azamgarh, Ghazipur , Bansgaon and Chandauli.
Varanasi was seen as the most prestigious of these, not only because of the city's ancient heritage, but also because of the players involved. Bhartiya Janata Party bigwig Murli Manohar Joshi [ Images ] who shifted from Allahabad is poised against sitting Congress MP Rajesh Misra, who enjoys tremendous goodwill with the masses. However mafia don turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, who has been fielded by Bahujan Samaj Party, is all set to play spoilsport. Ansari is contesting the election from behind bars.
In Gorakhpur again the two key contestants -- saffron clad sitting BJP MP Yogi Adityanath and Bhojpuri filmstar Manoj Tiwari of SP make the electoral battle interesting.
The Kushinagar contest was mainly between R P N Singh of the Congress and Swami Prasad Maurya of the BSP. Singh's strength comes from his family connections -- his father C P N Singh was the raja of Padrauna, a big princely state. Maurya enjoys close proximity to chief minister Mayawati [ Images ] in whose cabinet he was the minister for cooperatives.
The Deoria contest has aroused interest largely because of the key contestants -- Baleshwar Yadav of the Congress and Lt Gen Prakash Mani Tripathi of the BJP.
In Azamgarh, sitting BSP MP Akbar Ahmed 'Dumpy' battles SP's Rama Kant Yadav, yet another dreaded gangster. But the newly formed Ulema Council candidate Dr Javed Akhtar [ Images ] could disturb Dumpy's Muslim support.
In Ballia, SP nominee Neeraj Shekhar, son of former prime minister Chandrashekhar is all set to repeat a term solely on the strength of the old legacy even as Sangram Singh Yadav of BSP was seen as a strong contender.
Ghazipur was yet another hotly contested seat with BSP's Afzal Ansari (brother of Mukhtar Ansari) pitted against Radhey Mohan Singh of the SP.
In Chandauli, the electoral battle was to be fought between sitting BSP MP Kailash Nath Singh Yadav and a young Congress nominee Shailendra Singh, who left the UP Police Service where he was deputy superintendent of police for public life. However, it remains a four-cornered contest with BJP's Jawahar Jaiswal and SP's Ram Kishan also in the fray.
Bansgaon which lies in a remote corner of eastern UP gets its importance because of its five-term MP and Union minister Mahabir Prasad, who may face a tough fight from BSP's Srinath on this reserved seat.