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IANS

 Polling has begun on Wednesday for the fourth phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Polling is being held in 59 Assembly constituencies spread across nine districts of Lucknow, Rae Bareli, Lakhimpur Kheri, Sitapur, Hardoi, Unnao, Fatehpur, Pilibhit and Banda.

As many as 624 candidates are in the fray during the fourth phase of the Assembly polls.

The state is witnessing a multi-cornered contest with the Congress, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Samajwadi Party (SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as the main contenders.

In the Assembly elections held in 2017, the BJP had won 51 of 59 seats. One seat was won by its ally Apna Dal(S). Four were won by the SP while two seats were won by the Congress and two by the BSP.

In this phase, voting is also taking place in state capital Lucknow which has nine Assembly seats. Of these, eight seats are with the BJP.

Polling is also being held in this phase in Lakhimpur Kheri, which has become a focal point of the farmer protest, especially after the October 3 incident in which four farmers were mowed down by a SUV owned by Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni's son Ashish Mishra.

Ashish Mishra was recently released on bail from jail last week.

The opposition has been constantly targeting the BJP over this incident and Mishra's release has further stoked the fires.

This phase is crucial for the BJP which faces the challenge of retaining its 51 seats. The party is facing resistance in the Terai region where BJP MP Varun Gandhi has been speaking up on issues against his own party. He is an MP from Pilibhit, a farmer-dominated constituency.

Then the party faces hostile voters in Lakhimpur Kheri where the opposition is refusing to let the October 2021 incident fade from public memory.

In Sitapur, the BJP faces rebel candidates.

For the Congress, the biggest challenge of these elections comes from Rae Bareli that also goes to polls this week. Both the Congress MLA, Aditi Singh and Rakesh Singh, have turned rebels and joined the BJP.

Rae Bareli is the parliamentary constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and the party will face major embarrassment if it fails to win Assembly seats here.

Another keenly watched seat in this phase is the Sarojini Nagar seat in Lucknow where the former Joint Director of Enforcement Directorate, Rajeshwar Singh, is pitted against Abhishek Mishra, a former IIM professor and a close aide of the former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Unnao is one of the most talked-about seats in this phase where Congress fielded the mother of a rape survivor against the BJP's sitting MLA.

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