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UP and Bihar bypolls: As counting begins, BJP takes early lead in Gorakhpur, Phulpur seats

As counting began for UP and Bihar bypolls today morning, the BJP took an early lead in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur and Phulpur parliament seats, while Lalu Yadav's RJD is ahead in Bihar's Araria, both parties holding.

Votes are being counted for key by-elections to two parliament seats in Uttar Pradesh and a parliament seat and two assembly seats in Bihar. In UP, regional heavyweights and arch rivals Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party have joined hand to try and snatch the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats away from the ruling BJP.

It is an experiment seen to test the ground for a larger alliance in the 2019 national election. In Bihar, the by-elections are seen as a referendum on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to dump Lalu Yadav and the Congress to partner with the BJP.

In Bihar's Bhabua assembly seat, the BJP is leading. The seat was vacated by the death last year of the BJP's Anand Bhushan Pandey, and the party has fielded his wife Rinki Rani Pandey. The RJD is leading in the Jehanabad assembly seat, held by the party.

It is a prestige battle for the BJP in UP. Gorakhpur is the seat that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held for five terms. He vacated it last year after becoming chief minister, following the BJP's sweep of the 2017 assembly elections, capturing 325 of the 403 assembly seat along with allies.

Phulpur was vacated by his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya.Yogi Adityanath campaigned hard in both constituencies and described the by-elections as a dress rehearsal for the general election next year.

In both seats, the Samajwadi Party is the BJP's main challenger, with the BSP offering support in a rare deal that includes the Samajwadi Party's support for the BSP in Rajya Sabha elections in UP later this month.

"If we win, there will be a bigger alliance," promised Pravin Nishad, fielded by the Samajwadi Party in Gorakhpur.