Lucknow : Campaigning ended Tuesday evening in eight western Uttar Pradesh constituencies where the ruling BJP is going all out to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha performance, a task made much tougher this time by the new SP-BSP-RLD alliance.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party won all eight seats -- Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar that go to the polls on April 11, the first phase of staggered elections.
But in a major upset in a by-election last year, it lost the Kairana Lok Sabha seat to a joint opposition candidate, raising hopes in the rival camp.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal, influential in western UP, is fighting in alliance with Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samajwadi Party.
In Muzaffarnagar, RLD chief Ajit Singh will take on BJP's Sanjeev Balyan, the sitting MP. His son Jayant Chaudhary has been fielded against Union minister Satyapal Singh in Baghpat.
The first phase of polling will also see two other Union ministers -- V K Singh (Ghaziabad) and Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Budh Nagar) -- in the fray as BJP candidates.
On the last day of electioneering on Tuesday, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi held a road show in Saharanpur. Just days earlier, she was in Ghaziabad.
Both the BJP and the opposition began their UP campaigns from Saharanpur.
The opposition alliance held its first joint rally in Saharanpur's Deoband, with Mayawati making a controversial call to Muslims to not let their vote split by favouring the Congress.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too kicked off the state BJP's election campaign from Saharanpur, where communal violence in 2013 had cast its shadow on the Lok Sabha polls the next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his own series of nationwide election rallies from Meerut.
The campaign in this part of UP was marred by some personal attacks,
Addressing a rally in Saharanpur, Adityanath referred to the local Congress candidate Imran Masood as Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Azhar Masood's son-in-law .
"The son-in-law of Azhar Masood has entered the constituency and he speaks the language of the terror mastermind, he said.
Union minister and BJP MP Mahesh Sharma called Rahul Gandhi "Pappu" and his sister Priyanka Gandhi as "Pappu ki pappi" while campaigning in Gautam Budh Nagar.
Adityanath's "Modiji ki sena" remark at a Ghaziabad rally triggered a controversy, prompting the Election Commission to ask him to be careful in his utterances.
Over 1.5 crore voters will decide the fate of 96 candidates in the eight constituencies.
Besides the three union ministers, the other prominent candidates are Imran Masood (Congress) and Raghav Lakhanpal (BJP), both from Saharanpur, and Tabassum Begum (SP) from Kairana.
In Bijnor, Congress candidate and a former UP minister, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, is challenging BJP's Raja Bharatendra Singh. In Meerut, BJP's Rajendra Agarwal is hoping for a repeat of 2014, and is now fighting against the BSP's Haji Mohammad Yaqub.
Dolly Sharma of the Congress is contesting against Union minister VK Singh. In Gautam Budh Nagar, it is Union minister Mahesh Sharma versus Arvind Kumar Singh of the Congress.
Politically crucial Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
The SP is contesting on 37 seats, the BSP on 38, and the RLD on three as part of a state-wide seat-sharing pact, from which the Congress has been excluded by the alliance.
But the opposition alliance will not put up candidates on Amethi and Rae Bareli seats, traditionally held by Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
The state will see polling in seven phases in the Lok Sabha elections.