Two-month campaign for politically crucial Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections came to an end today with a highly-charged final phase of campaigning culminating today with the show of strength by the BJP, the SP-Congress combine and the BSP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Varanasi constituency.
The stakes of the last phase of elections can be judged on the basis that the Prime Minister himself camped in Varanasi for three days.
40 seats spread over seven eastern districts, including five in Varanasi, will go to polls on March 8, bringing curtains down on the two-month-long exercise staggered in seven phases.
Over the course of three days, the Prime Minister visited temples, held a roadshow and attended a number of public events in the holy city along with several rallies in the region, in the final push by the BJP to reach out to voters.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also matched it with their own campaign blitz in the region.
Joined by Akhilesh's wife Dimple, the two leaders held a roadshow, hours after Modi arrived in the city and paid obeisance at the Kashi Vishwanath and Kal Bhairav temples with much fanfare.
BSP chief Mayawati, who is seeking a fifth term as Chief Minister, also addressed a rally in Rohaniya, around 20 km from Varanasi the same day.
Modi today wrapped up his hectic campaign with a rally at Rohaniya, where he made an impassioned plea to voters to defeat SP-Congress combine and BSP, blaming these parties for the plight of Uttar Pradesh.
Akhilesh, meanwhile lined up 13 rallies on the last day of campaigning.
The three Naxal-affected districts of Sonbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli, along with the five Assembly segments under Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, will be in prime focus in this phase.
Tight security has been put in place in these districts. The counting of votes polled in all the seven phases of the Assembly polls will be taken up on March 11.
A total of 1.41 crore voters, including 64.76 lakh women, will exercise their franchise in the last phase.
14,458 polling booths have been set up in this phase. In the 2012 state Assembly polls, out of these 40 seats, 23 went to SP, 5 to BSP, 4 to BJP, 3 to Congress and 5 to others.
The seven districts going to polls in this phase are Ghazipur, Varanasi, Jaunpur, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Bhadoi and Sonebhadra.
In all, 535 candidates, including 40 (BSP), 32 (BJP), 31 (SP), 9 (Congress), 21 (RLD) and 5 (NCP) are in the fray in this phase.
While the maximum number of candidates (24) are from the Varanasi Cant seat, the minimum number of candidates (six) are contesting from Kerakat (SC).
Parties go all out for campaigning on last day
A galaxy of BJP veterans and Union ministers also made a beeline to Varanasi towards the fag end of electioneering, making the poll atmosphere highly charged.
Leading BJP's campaign from the front, Modi mocked Akhilesh and Rahul as "delicate" people incapable of taking hard decisions while pitching himself as a grassroots leader who can bring development to the 'Purvanchal' region and the state.
Modi said the SP and the BSP are two sides of the same coin -- the former being A (Akhilesh) SP and the latter B (Bahujan) SP.
Taking potshots at the Congress over its run of losses in the recent polls, he said one day research would have be done to find out if it ever existed, as it is "disappearing from everywhere."
During his election rally in Sonbhadra towards the end of the campaign, Akhilesh ridiculed Modi's roadshows saying these were bound to fail like the earlier ones and would lead the PM "somewhere else."
"A roadshow was held...it failed. He is doing one more...it too will fail and then again a roadshow will be held...Now he will go somewhere else by doing his roadshow," he said at a rally here.
Rahul, in his address, alleged that Modi has waived loans worth Rs 1.40 lakh crore owed by 50 rich people but refused to write off Rs 50,000 crore due of poor farmers.
At her rally, Mayawati claimed the people at Modi's roadshow were "mere spectators" brought from neighbouring states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
She said the joint roadshow by Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi reflected they had "reconciled to defeat" and added that prayers being offered at temples and shrines "will be of no avail".
(With PTI inputs)