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Lok Sabha bypoll in UP: Voter turnout sees sharp fall, SP and BJP in war of words

The voter turnout in the two Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh, where bypolls were held on Thursday, was sluggish with Rampur and Azamgarh recording 39.02 and 48.56 per cent polling, respectively, as per the Election Commission’s preliminary numbers.

Rampur witnessed a sharp decline – a drop of nearly 25 percentage points — in the turnout vis à vis the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when it had recorded 63.19 per cent polling.

The drop in Azamgarh turnout was not that steep. Azamgarh had recorded 57.56 per cent turnout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a drop of nine percentage points.

With both the seats being the bastions of the Samajwadi Party, the drop in the turnout prompted a sharp reaction from its leaders.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, who won from Azamgarh in 2019 and had recently vacated the seat to continue as MLA, accused the BJP government of misusing the state machinery to suppress the voting. “The BJP misused power in the bypolls to Azamgarh and Rampur. Hurdles were created by the ruling party to disrupt polling… Though the Election Commission was informed, the entire election machinery remained a mute spectator. Voters were not allowed to vote without fear… Fake voting was done and EVMs were found faulty in various booths… All this was done in a planned way,” the SP chief said in a statement.

He alleged that polling agents of his party were “removed” from the booths in the Assembly segments of Gopalpur, Sagdi, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh, Mehnagar in Azamgarh Lok Sabha constituency. He also alleged that women belonging to the minority community were stopped from voting in Rampur’s Suar Assembly constituency and Narpat Nagar, adding that police resorted to a lathicharge to create fear among the voters.

Akhilesh’s cousin and former MP Dharmendra Pradhan is locked in a triangular contest in Azamgarh against BSP’s Guddu Jamali and BJP’s Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’.

In Rampur, senior SP leader Azam Khan levelled the same allegations. Speaking to reporters, Azam Khan, who too resigned from Rampur Lok Sabha seat to continue as MLA, thereby necessitating the bypolls there, accused the police of “intimidating” the votes. “They did not let them out to cast vote. The polling booths were lying deserted,” Khan said.

SP’s Rampur district president Virendra Goyal said that voters were threatened by the administration in Muslim-dominated areas of Rampur city, Tanda, Chamrauua among other places. He said that the party complained to the Election Commission, but no action was taken.

While Rampur District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Mander and Superintendent of Police Ashok Kumar were not available for comment despite repeated attempts, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ajay Kumar Shukla said polling in both the constituencies was held in a fair and peaceful manner without any disturbances, and added that the final polling figures will be released on Friday after taking into account the data from all the polling booths. “After receiving the complaints, reports were immediately sought from district electoral officers. No facts were found in those complaints,” the CEO said.

When asked about the allegations against the police, ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said that polling was held peacefully and fairly. “The scale of security deployment was made as per the Election Commission and approved by the Observer. If someone gives any complaint to senior authorities, his complaint will be examined,” the ADG said.

Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said that SP leaders were making baseless allegations to make excuses in advance for their defeat in the bypoll. “Akhilesh Yadav had deliberately skipped the campaign fearing defeat,” he said. On low voter turnout, Tripathi said, “First of all the weather condition was responsible for the low turnout.

Secondly, voters do not take much interest in bypolls. Further, since BSP and Congress were not contesting in Rampur, so their workers and voters were not enthusiastic in polling.”

In Rampur, SP’s Asim Raja is in a direct contest against BJP’s Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi. Rampur is considered a stronghold of Azam Khan. In the recent Assembly elections earlier this year, Azam Khan won from Rampur Sadar while he was in jail. His son won from the nearby Suar Assembly seat.

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