- The Karhal seat is currently held by Sobaran Yadav of the Samajwadi Party
- Yesterday Akhilesh Yadav refused to confirm he could fight from Azamgarh
- Akhilesh Yadav said he needed constituents' "permission" to stand in poll
Samajwadi leader Akhilesh Yadav is likely to contest next month's Uttar Pradesh election from the Karhal seat in Mainpuri district, which is seen as a Yadav family stronghold, party sources said Thursday evening. Mulayam Singh Yadav has been voted to the Lok Sabha from Manipuri five times.
Karhal - one of five Assembly seats in the Manipuri constituency - has voted for a Samajwadi Party candidate in every election since 1993, except for five years between 2002 and 2007, when the BJP flipped the seat. The seat is currently held by Sobaran Yadav.
Yesterday Mr Yadav refused to confirm buzz he could fight from his Lok Sabha seat of Azamgarh.
"I will seek the permission of the people of Azamgarh if I decide to contest the elections. I need to seek their permission because they elected me from there," he said.
Party sources, however, said he had decided - he was ready, and only the choice of seat remained.
Sources said the BJP's move to field Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from his stronghold of Gorakhnath had ramped up pressure on Mr Yadav and played a big role in his decision.
Mr Yadav greeted news of Adityanath's Gorakhpur candidature with a cheeky swipe; "I like that the BJP has already sent him.. Yogi should stay there... no need for him to come from there," he said.
Another factor that likely played a big role in Mr Yadav's decision was the defection of his sister-in-law (and Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law) Aparna Yadav, who yesterday joined the BJP.
Mr Yadav has played down the significant of her exit - declaring he was "happy" that his party's socialist ideology was now present in the rival camp - but the import was not lost on observers.
Aparna Yadav's joining the BJP came just days after the ruling party was embarrassed by a list of nearly a dozen leaders, several from politically key OBC groups, joining the Samajwadi Party to the tune of near-identical criticism about the Yogi Adityanath government's neglect of backward castes.
That list, which included eastern UP strongman Swami Prasad Maurya, could Mr Yadav an edge over the BJP, particularly since it was OBC votes the latter successfully won over to defeat him in 2017.
In November, Akhilesh Yadav told reporters he would not contest the election. His party, however, had other ideas and rushed to clarify that a final decision would be taken by the collective.
A month later he told NDTV: "If the party wants, I will contest the election. I had said earlier too that if the party decides, I will contest the election in 2022."
He made similar statements over the next few weeks, heightening buzz that he could make his Assembly polls debut this time - at the head of a meticulously stitched "rainbow" alliance of regional parties that is widely seen as posing a serious threat to the BJP's re-election bid.
Mr Yadav has told NDTV he expects a "pincer" movement - of angry farmers in the western part of UP and allied regional parties in the east - to oust the ruling party.
UP votes in a seven-phase poll that begins February 10, with results due exactly one month later.