Smaller outfits such as Dr Ayub's Peace Party, Mukhtar Ansari's Qaumi Ekta Dal and Om Prakash Rajbhar's Bharatiya Samaj Party, which wield considerable clout in certain pockets, could, however, upset the calculations of the big players.
The second round of polling will cover 59 assembly segments in nine districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. They are Maharajganj, Sant Kabir Nagar, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Deoria, Mau, Azamgarh, Ballia and Ghazipur.
In the 2007 assembly election, BSP, riding the anti-mafiaraj wave and the support extended by upper castes and MBCs, besides its core constituency of Dalits, had won 30 seats, with 29.4% votes. SP could only emerge victorious in 20 seats. BJP and Congress had to rest content with seven and two seats, respectively.
In the general election held two years later, BSP found the ground slipping from beneath its feet, with its pre-eminence challenged by BJP and Congress. Of the 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in the region, Mayawati's outfit still won the single largest share (5), but BJP, with three seats, was only marginally behind. Congress and SP won two seats each.
BSP led in 21 assembly segments in 2009, polling 28.6% votes, while BJP surged ahead of its rivals in 18 assembly segments. It saw its vote-share jumping to 22.9%.
BJP MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, will be fighting to secure his turf in the Gorakhpur division. In Azamgarh and Mau districts, the attempts of SP, BSP and Congress to win the backing of the numerically-powerful Muslims are likely to be challenged by the Peace Party and the Qaumi Ekta Dal. Mafia don Mukhtar Ansari, incarcerated on charges of murdering BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai, has entered the fray from Mau and Ghosi.
Azamgarh is also the homeground of powerful BJP MP Ramakant Yadav, known for his muscle-power. The party has rewarded him with tickets for three of his close relatives - wife Ranjana from Nizamabad, son Arun from Jalalpur and another kin Yogendra from Gopalpur.
In terms of caste configuration, upper castes are present in larger numbers (27.2%) in the nine districts facing elections in the second phase. Brahmins alone account for 13.5%, followed by Rajputs, Vaishyas and Bhumihars.
Yadavs form the largest chunk among OBCs, with 9%, but Kurmis, with 7.5%, come a close second. MBCs account for 14.4 % of the electorate in the second phase. Dalits constitute 20.7% of the electorate, with the Jatavs alone accounting for close to half. Muslims add up to 20%.
Besides Yogi Adityanath and Ramakant Yadav, Union minister RPN Singh's prestige will also be at stake in this round of elections. He represents Kushinagar in the Lok Sabha, but suffered the mortification of seeing his mother Mohini Devi lose to a BSP candidate in the by-election to Padrauna assembly seat.
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