Once described as a factory of prime ministers (with 8 of 14 PMs), Uttar Pradesh the state has, over the past two decades, been relegated into insignificance with no role in government formation at the Centre.
The scene may change now as four contenders for the top post, including the BJP's declared prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, are testing their electoral fortunes from the state. Others, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Mayawati have also set their eyes on the top seat in Delhi, in case a third political alternative claims power. Then there is Rahul Gandhi.
Poltical affinites shift drastically in the state, making it difficult for a party strategist to get a fix on it. Over past three elections, only 14 seats have stayed with any one party. The other 66 seats have switched loyalties between the SP, the BSP, the BJP, the Congress and Ajit Singh's RLD.
The Congress 2009 plan to consolidate Thakurs, Brahmin, Kurmi and Muslims worked and gave the Congress 20 Lok Sabha seats. It looked as if the party had rejuvenated. But the plan fell flat in the 2012 assembly polls, when Muslims returned to the SP and Thakurs deserted the Congress for the BJP. Even after this loss, Gandhi has been tirelessly focussing on this state.
A year ago, Rahul has set an ambitious target of winning 40 Lok Sabha seats from UP, doubling the 2009 tally. But the plan has gone awry, due to well known reasons.
On the otherhand, Amit Shah, who is scripting the BJP's revival plan in UP, is banking on the traditional upper caste and non-Yadav OBCs to consolidate in favour of the BJP. The riots in Muzaffarnagar has brought together an uncanny alliance of Dalits and Jats in favour of the BJP in western UP. But eastern UP remains the BJP's weakest link. Between 1996 and 1998 state was firmly with the BJP, but ironically, when it came to power in 1999, its electoral graph in the state started dipping.
Both the NDA and the UPA are trying hard to create dents in the support base of the SP and BSP, which have a stranglehold on the state. Narendra Modi's candidature from Varanasi in eastern Uttar Pradesh may have an impact on a number of seats in the vicinity, even stretching to parts of western Bihar. To contain Modi's expected area of influence, Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting from nearby Azamgarh.