Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav appears to be sitting pretty with caste and local equations by his side against rival Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dinesh Lal Yadav alias Nirahua in Azamgarh.
Nirahua, a Bhojpuri star, is drawing huge crowds in his road shows and meetings after he entered the poll fray against Yadav, but voters with caste and local equations appear favourable for the senior Yadav.
When asked about his decision to contest on this seat, SP supremo Yadav said, "I have been getting requests from leaders to contest from here. As I had to contest from somewhere and the party decided to field me from this seat, I agreed.”
Locals say that after filing his nominations, Yadav did not reach out to them unlike the BJP candidate.
However, the former Uttar Pradesh CM says, "I am expected at all 80 (Lok Sabha) seats of the state. I am campaigning regularly and trying to cover all seats. As far as Azamgarh is concerned, the party cadre is there and is connecting the people, who know the reality of the BJP.”
"When 'Netaji' (Mulayam) was MP, I, as chief minister, ensured overall development of the city. Purvanchal Expressway, which the BJP is talking about now, is my brainchild and I would have made it operational had I got a chance in 2017. I have given ITI, medical college, power sub-stations in this constituency.”
When asked about BJP candidate, Nirahua, on whom he had conferred the prestigious Yash Bharati award in 2016, Yadav said, "I honoured him during my regime. Now, he is contesting for those who withdrew the monthly amount given with this award. I have no problem with anyone contesting against me.”
About his poll prospects on the seat which the BJP lost in Modi wave in 2014, Nirahua, who has emerged as a crowd puller, told a journalist that he is doing his job sincerely and getting good response from the people.
"I had been in the film industry for 12 years and won numerous awards. Akhileshji gave me Yash Bharti, but it doesn't mean that I should support him. The SP only used Yadavs as vote bank and does nothing for them. It's time for change,” Nirahua said.
While political pundits believe the BJP's decision to field him against Yadav was a masterstroke as the Bhojpuri singer from Birha family enjoys unwavering support among youth and middle-income strata in eastern UP, there are those who believe that it will be difficult for him to stand in front of the former UP CM in the battle of ballots.
"There are no big issues here. People here are backing alliance candidate Yadav as the BJP has left no stone unturned to label the city, once known for poets and educationists, as a hub of terrorism,” a local tea vendor Mohammad Mushtaq says.
"Election is all about caste arithmetic and it is in favour of Akhilesh. When a stalwart like Ramakant Yadav could not win during the Modi wave, I don't see any possibility of Nirahua giving a tough fight to Akhilesh. Also, with the BSP by the SP's side, the results here are obvious,” say Masood Akhtar of Mubarakpur.
A BJP supporter, however, feels differently.
Suresh Gupta, a vendor says, "The SP is overconfident. I don't think all Dalit votes will get transferred to Akhilesh. There is Modi wave in the country and irrespective of the candidate, the BJP will give good fight here.”
The Samajwadi Party chief's decision to contest from his father Mulayam Singh's bastion Azamgarh is being touted as a move to consolidate the Yadav, Dalit and Muslim voters in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, say analysts.
The constituency has a substantial population of Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims -- the three communities which form the crux of the SP-BSP alliance in the politically crucial state.
While Yadav is the most dominant OBC caste, Jatavs constitute more than 56 per cent of the state's Dalit population and are believed to be loyal to Mayawati-led BSP.
Since 1996, only Muslims and Yadavs have won the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat.
Ramakant Yadav won the seat as a SP candidate in 1996 and 1999. He won it again as a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in 2004 and on a BJP ticket in 2009. The seat was held by Akbar Ahmed Dumpy as a BSP candidate in 1998 and 2008 by-election.
In the 2014 general elections, despite the "Modi wave", Mulayam succeeded in winning the seat and defeated Ramakant by 63,000 votes and secured 35.43 per cent votes.
While BJP's Ramakant got 28.85 per cent votes, BSP candidate Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali got 27.75 per cent votes. The combined vote percentage, therefore, of the SP and the BSP in Azamgarh was over 63 per cent, a factor that weighs in favour of Akhilesh Yadav.
Azamgarh, which will go to polls on May 12 in the sixth phase, has over 17 lakh voters, including about 4 lakh Yadav voters, 3 lakh Muslim voters and around 2.75 lakh Dalit voters.
The Lok Sabha constituency has five assembly segments - Gopalpur, Sagri, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh and Mehnagar -- of which three were bagged by the SP and two by the BSP in the 2017 assembly polls -- yet another plus point that Akhilesh Yadav can be happy about.