Poonam Sinha, the wife of actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha, joined the Samajwadi Party today and is set to contest from Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow as the joint opposition candidate. Last week, Shatrughan Sinha had joined the Congress after quitting the BJP, his party of almost three decades.
Poonam Sinha was welcomed into the party by Dimple Yadav, the wife of Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav, with just two more days before nominations close for Lucknow. "She will be our nominee for Lucknow," said senior Samajwadi leader Ravidas Mehrotra.
It had been speculated for long that the gathbandhan or alliance of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh would go for Poonam Sinha as their candidate against Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the BJP.
Lucknow is a prestigious seat that has been with the BJP since 1991. The party's iconic leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee held it from 1991 to 2009. Rajnath Singh, who the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from western Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, took over the Lucknow seat in 2014.
In this election, the seat has fallen into the Samajwadi Party's share of seats as part of its alliance with bitter rival turned partner BSP.
"On a seat like Lucknow, I am willing to take a risk. I want to look beyond the usual caste combination here. The question is whether it will work or not," Samajwadi chief Akhilesh Yadav had said a few days ago, asked whether he would go for a political greenhorn.
Today, he said: "Dimple (Yadav) made her join SP. We hope she will take forward the party's policies and events."
Poonam Sinha, 69, is a former model and actor debuting in politics, unlike her husband, a two-time union minister. Party leaders say as a Sindhi married to a Kayastha - the community has a considerable presence in the urban parts of Lucknow - she could make an impact but she will have to battle the tag of an "outsider".
Sources say any decision to field Poonam Sinha may be part of a strategy to confine Rajnath Singh to a seat where he has always breezed to victory.
In 2014, he was up against Rita Bahuguna Joshi, then with the Congress and a UP minister. Ms Joshi, who has since joined the BJP, managed about 2,80,000 votes to Rajnath Singh's 5,60,000. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was third and the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav was fourth.
Asked about Poonam Sinha as a rival, Rajnath Singh said: "Yes somebody must contest, that is the beauty of democracy. We will fight elections with full dignity, tehzeeb jo Lucknow ki bohot badi dharohar hai usko bhi hum kayam rakhenge (we will maintain the decorum that is the legacy of Lucknow)."