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Has anything changed, ask voters in UP's Lakhimpur Kheri

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Lakhimpur Kheri, May 11 (PTI) "Political leaders promised many things but has anything changed," asks Kamali Devi, who runs a small store in the Ghausina area here.

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This appears to be a common refrain in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri Lok Sabha constituency where farmers want better prices for their produce and respite from the stray cattle menace and others want political leaders to talk about job creation instead of issues like the Ram temple and Article 370.

The district came into the spotlight in October 2021, when four Sikh farmers and a journalist were run over by an SUV in the Tikunia area.

Ashish Mishra alias Monu, the son of sitting Lakhimpur Kheri MP and Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra 'Teni' was made an accused in the case.

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Ashish Mishra is currently out on bail. The BJP has renominated Ajay Mishra from the seat.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) has fielded Utkarsh Verma from the seat and the BSP has fielded Anshay Kalra.

Mishra enjoys popularity among the core upper caste voters in the constituency. His election campaign is focused on the development carried out in the region under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have held multiple rallies to garner support for Ajay Mishra.

SP president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati have also held rallies in support of candidates of their parties.

Locals say that even the traditional vote banks of political parties are looking for options this time.

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Ranvijay Pandey, a retired bank employee said, "The excitement of elections is missing this time. People have faced tough times in the past few years but they know who has steered the country through it and took it towards development." On the BJP raising issues like the Ram temple, removal of Article 370 and triple talaq, Kamal Pal Singh, a garment shop salesman, said, "All these issues, have not given me a job. I am turning 35 and still do not have a permanent job." Lakhimpur Kheri has over 18.6 lakh voters. Of these, around 7 lakh voters belong to Kurmi and other OBC communities. There are 2.5 lakh Dalit voters, 3 lakh Brahmins, 2.65 lakh Muslims and around 1 lakh Sikhs, according to internal surveys of political parties.

Some farmer groups are upset with the BJP for renominating Ajay Mishra.

"Naming a person whose son is accused of running over farmers with his vehicle as the candidate from the Lakhimpur seat is nothing but a slap on the face of farmers and the family members of those who were killed that day. We would urge the people of Lakhimpur to respond to this injustice," said Kulwant Singh, an office bearer of the Kisan Union (Tikait).

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Also known as Uttar Pradesh's sugar bowl, Lakhimpur Kheri is known for its sugarcane production.

Farmers here have various concerns.

"We get Rs 6,000 annually from the government but that money is not enough to even procure fertiliser for one crop season. The cost of everything has increased but the prices we get for our produce have not," said Farzan Khan a farmer, from the Nighasan area who had come to the 'mandi' to sell 80 quintals of wheat.

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For Deepak Mishra, another farmer at the mandi, the stray cattle menace is an issue.

"Everyone in the BJP, from the block level leader to (Chief Minister) Yogi Adityanath and the prime minister had promised that the issue of stray cattle would be resolved but the problem has only worsened over the years. Our entire time is spent keeping stray cattle out of our fields," he said.

Ashutosh Kumar, an office bearer of the local hotel association, wants better connectivity for Lakhimpur Kheri.

"There is no air connectivity and rail connectivity with important cities is also limited. This hinders the growth of the tourism sector here despite its huge potential," he said.

The Lakhimpur Kheri constituency has five assembly seats -- Palia, Nighasan, Gola Gokarnath, Sri Nagar and Lakhimpur. The BJP won all the seats in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

When contacted, Ajay Mishra 'Teni' refused to comment on the elections.

SP candidate Utkarsh Verma claimed the BJP has lost ground among the poor, farmers, traders and backwards due to its policies.

"These groups are with the INDIA alliance and will oust the BJP from here," he said.

BSP's Anshay Kalra exuded confidence that he would win the seat.

"The people of the district are tired of the BJP's loot. They also remember the goonda raj of the SP government and are choosing the BSP this time to safeguard their rights," he said.

Since 1998, the SP has won the Lakhimpur Kheri seat thrice, the BJP twice and the Congress once.

Polling in Lakhimpur Kheri will be held on May 13, the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha elections. PTI CDN DIV DIV

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