Akhilesh Yadav is a four-time MP but has never contested a state election
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav - who this month said he would not fight next year's Uttar Pradesh Assembly election - seemed to leave the door ajar on Wednesday, telling NDTV he would only do so "if the party wants". His own priority, he said, was to see the ruling BJP "wiped out".
Mr Yadav - who is currently his party's Lok Sabha MP from UP's Azamgarh, a seat he will have to surrender if he stands for state elections - also said his statement about not contesting was "twisted".
"That statement was twisted. If the Samajwadi Party decides, then I will contest," Mr Yadav told NDTV in front of a raucous crowd of supporters at a rally in Ghazipur district.
"I want to see the BJP wiped out," he said, echoing what he told NDTV last week. At that time, while campaigning in Muzaffarnagar, he declared that a pincer movement of angry farmers and the alliance led by his party would "close the doors (to retaining power in UP) to the BJP".
On November 1, news agency PTI quoted Mr Yadav as saying "(I) will not be contesting the polls".
Shortly afterwards, though, the Samajwadi Party rushed to offer a clarification; Aashish Yadav, a close aide, tweeted: "Whether or not Akhilesh Yadav will contest will be decided by the party".
Akhilesh Yadav - a three-time MP from the Kannauj seat - contested from and won the Azamgarh seat in 2019. He has never contested a state election; he sat out the 2012 and 2017 Assembly polls.
Nevertheless, he led the Samajwadi Party to an emphatic win in 2012.
Ahead of the 2022 election, the former UP Chief Minister - who has walked away from the Congress - is working with regional parties to take on the BJP. His new allies include the OP Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj; Mr Rajbhar was part of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's government for two years.
At Ghazipur, Mr Yadav told NDTV the BJP would pay for the excesses of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's government. He pointed to the Hathras gangrape, farmers being run over in Lakhimpur, and the alleged custodial death in Kasganj as examples that would spur voters to reject the party.
Mr Yadav also hit back at claims that if the Samajwadi Party were to be elected it would be the return of a "goonda raj". He pointed out Yogi Adityanath had multiple cases filed against him.
"Doesn't the BJP know the Chief Minister who was walking (a swipe at images of Adityanath walking behind PM Modi's car after they opened the Purvanchal Expressway) ... how many cases he has?"
The Samajwadi Party chief then took a second swipe at Yogi Adityanath, asking "any other Chief Minister who withdrew cases against him?" He was referring to the UP government scrapping thousands of cases against politicians, including those against Yogi Adityanath, in 2017.
"This Purvanchal (the expressway) ... they opened the door for the BJP. We will close it now," he said, reigniting the flare-up between himself and the BJP over credit for the expressway.
Uttar Pradesh votes for a new government next year, and polls in the country's most populous state are widely seen as a bellwether for the national election.
With Lok Sabha polls due in 2024, the BJP will be keen to not only retain power in UP, but also do so with a commanding mandate to reinforce its edge after multiple defeats in the April-May round of Assembly elections.