Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav'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.
The Samajwadi Party is contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
"Akhilesh contesting the polls from Azamgarh will help in the consolidation of 'lathi, hathi and 786' voters," SP Azamgarh district chief Havaldar Yadav said, referring to the Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims.
"His presence will boost the poll prospects of SP-BSP alliance candidates in the entire eastern UP region as Azamgarh lies between Gorakhpur and Varanasi," he said.
"With 'netaji' (Mulayam Singh Yadav) as MP and Akhilesh as CM, the constituency witnessed development and people here acknowledge it," Havaldar said.
The seat is at present held by SP patriarch Mulayam Singh who won the 2014 polls from Mainpuri and Azamgarh. He retained Azamgarh to ensure the presence of the party in eastern UP.
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 an SP candidate in 1996 and 1999. He won it again as a BSP 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.
"Akhilesh Yadav will sail through easily. He will win by a record margin this time. His presence will also help the alliance partner BSP in getting Yadav votes in nearby districts of Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Salempur, Ghosi, Lalganj, Ambedkarnagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Deoria and Machhlishahr, where BSP candidates are in fray," SP MLC Rajpal Kashyap said.
The Samajwadi Party has also announced an alliance with the Nishad Party, Janwadi Party (Socialist) and the Rashtriya Samanta Dal for the April-May elections.
With the Nishad Party joining the SP-BSP-RLD bandwagon, party leaders say Akhilesh's candidature will bolster the winning prospects of SP candidates in Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Azamgarh and Ballia seats. The Samajwadi Party, which had won only one seat (Azamgarh) in the region in 2014 due to the division of Muslim votes, seems to be on a comfortable footing this time.
The party feels, with the BSP on its side, the alliance would be able to dent BJP's poll prospects. As per the seat-sharing arrangement, the BSP is contesting on 38 seats, SP on 37 and RLD on three seats (western UP) in the state.
Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in the country.
The SP-BSP-RLD alliance also seeks to allay the apprehension that Yadavs and Dalits may not come together in the elections due to local issues.
The SP Azamgarh district chief said Akhilesh's candidature from Azamgarh and joint campaigning of SP-BSP leaders in the constituency hold the key to uniting Yadav and Dalit voters.
The Azamgarh constituency has over 23 lakh voters, including about 4 lakh Yadav voters, 3 lakh Muslim voters and around 2.75 lakh Dalit voters beside others.
The constituency has five Assembly segments Gopalpur, Sagri, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh and Mehnagar -- of which three were bagged by the SP and two by BSP in the 2017 assembly polls.