Influential OBC leader and former Uttar Pradesh minister Swami Prasad Maurya, who recently switched over to the SP along with some other BJP leaders, faces a tough challenge to enter the assembly for the sixth time.
Close on the heels of a BJP master stroke of inducting former Union minister and popular OBC leader RPN Singh to cover up for the loss, Maurya changed his constituency from Padrauna to Fazilnagar within the Kushinagar district.
However, the poll battle may not be easy for him in Fazilnagar which was won by Ganga Singh Kushwaha of the BJP in 2017.
According to estimates of political parties, the Fazilnagar assembly segment has around 90,000 Muslim voters, 55,000 Maurya Kushwahas, 50,000 Yadavs, 30,000 Brahmins, 40,000 Kurmi-Sainthwars, 30,000 Vaishyas and about 80,000 Dalits.
The BSP has nominated Ilias Ansari for the seat and he threatens to split the votes of its electorally dominant community, taking the advantage away from the SP, which is banking on its traditional vote bank.
Political experts think Maurya's chances rest on Muslim votes not getting split.
With BJP nominee Surendra Singh Kushwaha being a fellow caste man and since RPN Singh could rally Kurmi-Sainthwars with him, Maurya's bet rests on how Yadavs and Muslims vote.
The constituency will vote in the sixth round on March 3.
Because of Maurya, political activities are at their peak in Fazilnagar, located about 20 km from Kushinagar.
The 68-year-old politician resigned as the labour and employment minister in January, accusing the Uttar Pradesh government and the BJP of neglecting backward classes and Dalits.
Local poll watchers think preventing Maurya's victory has now become a question of reputation for RPN Singh as he campaigns for the BJP across the district.
Speaking to PTI, BJP panchayat cell regional head Ajay Tiwari said, "If Maurya had not contested the elections on a BJP ticket last time, he would have lost in Padrauna. Voters will clear his misconceptions this time, and he will know what the consequences of betrayal are." The Congress has fielded Manoj Kumar Singh from the seat, and Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Ilyas Ansari had recently quit the Samajwadi Party.
Dr Prabhakar Mishra, assistant professor at the SVM Post Graduate College in Fazilnagar, told PTI that due to the good numbers of the Kushwaha-Maurya (Koiri) fraternity in the Fazilnagar Assembly Constituency, Swami Prasad Maurya is still in the contest. But he will win only if he gets full support of Muslim voters, Mishra added.
On Muslim votes, young businessman Nizamuddin said the party that does not engage in politics of discrimination and hate will get the votes of the community.
In the 2017 elections in Fazilnagar, Ganga Singh Kushwaha of the BJP defeated Vishwanath Singh of the SP by a huge margin of about 41,000 votes.
This time, BSP's Ilyas Ansari hopes to win the seat with the help of Dalit and Muslim votes as well as other traditional votes of the Mayawati-led party.
BSP leader Tufani Prasad of Nakathan village in the assembly constituency said, "There is a large number of Dalit voters, and if Muslims cooperate, Ilyas's victory is certain." A youth of Fazilnagar, Saket Kushwaha, said, "The BJP candidate has a clean image. If Maurya had been a well-wisher of the fraternity, he would not have come to this area and created a hindrance in the way of Surendra Kushwaha." Prabhakar Mishra refutes Kushwaha's argument. Referring to the trend of voters, Mishra said, "The BJP says that it will not promote dynasties, but here, they have given the ticket to the son of MLA Ganga Singh Kushwaha, due to which people, especially Kushwahas, are unhappy." He claimed that Maurya may have benefited from being a face of the Maurya-Kushwaha fraternity, but Rajkumar Choudhary, a young man who manages a petrol pump, claimed that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the difference of castes has been broken and the BJP will get its benefit.
Claiming a massive victory in Fazilnagar, Swami Prasad Maurya said the Samajwadi Party will win more than 300 seats and the BJP will be wiped out.
Hailing from Pratapgarh district, Maurya, in his long political career, has been the state president of the BSP, the leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a minister in the Mayawati-led governments.
He won the assembly elections twice from Raebareli district and thrice from Padrauna.
Some observes believe Swami Prasad Maurya was the only big leader from this community earlier, but now Keshav Prasad Maurya, who became the BJP state president in 2016 and deputy chief minister in 2017, has become the face of the non-Yadav backward classes. PTI AR CDN SNS IJT