UP Polls: UP votes in a seven-phase poll that begins on February 10, with results due March 10.
With less 20 days for the first phase of polls, the BJP moved into high gear Saturday with Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and party chief JP Nadda on the campaign trail in politically key western Uttar Pradesh, which votes on February 10.
Amit Shah held a door-to-door campaign in Kairana district - where the BJP hopes to use the 'Hindu migration' controversy - and will address a public meeting in Shamli later this evening.
In his first visit to the state since poll dates were announced, he was seen without a face mask (which violates Covid protocols) and surrounded by a mob of party workers and security personnel.
The number of people around him clearly exceeded the five-person limit ordered by the Election Commission as part of its measures to hold campaigning and elections during the Covid third wave.
The Chief Minister, meanwhile, will be in Aligarh and Bulandshahr, Mr Nadda will be on the road in Bijnor, and the BJP's state unit chief, Swatantra Dev Singh, will be in Saharanpur.
Mr Shah has been given charge of the BJP's campaign in western UP, where the party did remarkably well in 2017, winning 83 of 108 seats, and the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Western UP is a significant battleground because of the concentration of farmers, who are widely seen as being upset with the ruling party over the farm laws issue. Their votes will be key; Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav hopes it will be part of a "pincer" movement that defeats the BJP.
With that in mind, Mr Shah's choice of campaign stops is interesting - Kairana, a one-time BJP stronghold that voted for the Samajwadi Party in the 2014 bypoll and 2017 - was mired in controversy before the last election for the alleged migration of Hindu families because of Muslim 'gangs'.
The BJP used this narrative in 2017 (although unsuccessfully) and is likely to do so again; Yogi Adityanath's visit to Kairana in November and pointed jab this week at the Samajwadi Party fielding candidates "responsible for exodus of traders from Kairana" suggests as much.
The party has fielded Mriganka Singh, the eldest daughter of three-time MLA Hukum Singh, whose election to the Lok Sabha in 2014 triggered the bypoll that the Samajwadi Party won.
Farmers will again be in focus for Mr Shah's second stop - Shamli.
Sugarcane farmers from the region told NDTV of the state's long-pending payment for their crops. UP Sugarcane Minister Suresh Rana, who is the incumbent MLA, said 90 per cent of dues had been paid.
Mr Shah will hold a closed-door meeting in Shamli with party leaders from the district and Baghpat.
Amit Shah's busy schedule today underlines the importance the BJP has placed on placating farmers and other voters in western UP; poor results here could not only affect the party's re-election bid but also put a crimp in its prep work for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
The BJP's election hope has taken a dent, though, with a slew of high-profile exits, including three ministers who are also key OBC leaders. There was some retribution after Akhilesh Yadav's sister-in-law Aparna Yadav, joined, but the challenged posed by the Samajwadi's "rainbow" alliance is real.
UP votes in a seven-phase poll that begins on February 10, with results due March 10.
With input from ANI