In Uttar Pradesh's Mau district, a unique campaign is in full swing for Atul Rai, a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate. From party chief Mayawati to Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav, everyone has been urging the people to elect Mr Rai from Ghosi. However, the candidate himself is "missing" from the campaign scene for a fortnight in this unusual canvassing for votes.
Atul Rai has been missing since a complaint was registered against him in a rape case on May 1. This has not deterred his supporters who have been campaigning for him in full force claiming he is being "framed" in a false case.
At a Mahagathbandhan rally today in the district, BSP chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav urged people to vote for Mr Rai. Both leaders have directed their cadres to continue campaigning for the "missing" candidate.
Mayawati claimed Atul Rai has been a "victim of conspiracy by the BJP" who want to defame him.
"It is our responsibility to get Atul Rai elected and defeat the conspiracy against him," she said at the rally today.
Mr Rai went missing soon after a complaint was registered against him by a college student at a Varanasi police station.
Fearing arrest, Mr Rai went underground and has not been campaigning for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Sources say he has fled to Malaysia to evade arrest. A lookout notice has been issued for him, police said.
His supporters however have continued to campaign for him amid the rape allegations.
"We are campaigning for him and the people of Ghosi know that he is being framed. He may be arrested if he comes here for campaigning," said one of his supporters.
Mr Rai's lawyers had approached the Supreme Court for seeking a stay on arrest till May 23, however the hearing has been pushed to May 17, just 2 days before the constituency goes to polls on May 19. A Vacation Bench will be hearing the petition on Friday.
Mr Rai's lawyers say that it was a politically motivated move to prevent him from campaigning in the elections to sabotage his prospects as a candidate.
Votes will be counted on May 23.
(With inputs from IANS)