Lucknow: The much-awaited Panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh will begin on Thursday with the first phase of polling in 18 districts.

The Panchayat elections will be held through ballot papers and more than 3.33 lakh candidates are in the fray in over 2.21 lakh seats in the first phase for the posts of Zila Panchayat (district council) members, kshetra (block) Panchayat members, village Panchayat heads and wards.

The districts that will go to polls on Thursday are Ayodhya, Agra, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Jhansi, Prayagraj, Bareilly, Bhadohi, Mahoba, Rampur, Rae Bareli, Shravasti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Saharanpur, Hardoi and Hathras.

For the post of Zila Panchayat members, 11,442 candidates are in the fray from 779 wards, while as many as 81,747 candidates are contesting in 19,313 wards of kshetra Panchayats.

For the Gram Panchayat, there are 1,14,142 candidates for 14,789 posts. And, for the Gram Panchayat wards, there are 1,26,613 candidates for 1,86,583 seats.

Apart from parties like the BJP, BSP, Samajwadi Party and the Congress, smaller parties like the AIMIM, Aam Aadmi Party and Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar`s Azad Samaj Party, are making their debut in the elections.

The AIMIM will contest polls with the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party.

The candidates will, however, contest on `free symbols` given by the Election Commission.

Congress state spokesperson Ashok Singh said the Panchayat elections would spring a surprise in the state as Congress would perform `brilliantly` in the state.

“People who are virtually fed up with the misrule and misgovernance of the four-year-old BJP government in UP are looking towards the Congress with hope in their eyes,” he said.

BJP state media convener Navin Srivastava said, “The manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have worked for the villagers, poor and farmers, it is evident that the BJP will sweep the Panchayat polls.”

In view of the coronavirus situation, the State Election Commission (SEC) had said in March that not more than five people would be allowed to accompany a candidate during door-to-door campaigning for the Panchayat elections.

Additional Election Commissioner Ved Prakash Verma said a three-member team has been formed under the additional district magistrates to ensure the directives issued by the SEC are being followed.

During polling, the voters will have to put up a mask and maintain social distancing.

Verma said Covid protocols would also be followed during counting of votes and PPE kits would also be arranged as per requirement.

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