As the elections in Uttar Pradesh move towards the last three phases, it is now the prestige of OBC leaders in all parties that is at stake.
Almost all parties have put OBC leaders at the helm of their campaigns and the last three phases will test their popularity.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has been playing an important role in the BJP campaign. He has been vigorously campaigning for his party candidates, flitting from one constituency to another.
Maurya is contesting from his Sirathu seat in Kaushambi district and is pitted against Pallavi Patel of Samajwadi Party.
Pallavi is a first-time contestant but is confident that the caste arithmetic of the constituency will take her to the victory stand.
Though Keshav Maurya has got Anupriya Patel – who is Pallavi Patel’s estranged sister – to campaign against her but Maurya is facing voters’ resentment in his constituency.
“Since he became deputy chief minister and a member of the Vidhan Parishad, he has not looked after the constituency. Now that he is contesting, he is back seeking votes,” said Arvind Patel, a local resident.
Another prominent leader whose fate depends on the coming phases is Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) president and MLA Om Prakash Rajbhar.
Rajbhar is contesting from Zahoorabad constituency in Ghazipur. The BJP has pitted another Rajbhar – Kalicharan Rajbhar – who will cut into the SBSP president’s base vote of the community.
However, Rajbhar is facing the biggest challenge from BSP that has fielded a rebel SP candidate Shadab Fatima. A former MLA, Shadab Fatima, is popular in the constituency and is confident of wresting the seat this time.
Om Prakash Rajbhar prides himself as the architect of the SP-led alliance since he was among the first to break ties with the BJP in UP.
His claims of defeating the BJP in UP may come a cropper if he does not do well on his seat.
Union minister Anupriya Patel also faces a test in the next phases of election for her party Apna Dal which has, so far, seen a high success rate in election.
The Apna Dal is a Kurmi-centric party that was funded by Dr Sonelal Patel, Anupriya’s father.
Though Anupriya is not contesting the election, her party candidates are reportedly feeling the heat of anti-incumbency in their constituencies.
Anupriya is campaigning vigorously for her party and hopes to overcome the hurdles to maintain her success rate which will also decide her future.
For Sanjay Nishad, president of the Nishad Party, these elections are a make-or-break affair. He is testing waters in the election for his party in alliance with the BJP and his performance will decided the future of his relationship with the party.
The Nishad community has been demanding reservation in the scheduled caste category and Sanjay Nishad, despite promises, has failed to convince the BJP to announce the same.
If his party fares poorly in the elections, it could mean rough weather for his relationship with the BJP in the long term.
For the former BJP minister Swami Prasad Maurya, his election this time, is crucial for his political future.
Maurya, who quit the BJP to join SP last month, has shifted to a new constituency Fazilnagar in Kushinagar district. He is contesting on a SP ticket while the BJP has fielded Surendra Kushwaha.
Maurya is facing a tough challenge from the BJP that is keen to defeat Maurya and avenge his ‘betrayal’.
Another OBC leader in the fray is Krishna Patel, who heads the breakaway faction of the Apna Dal. She is contesting from Pratapgarh as an alliance candidate of Samajwadi Party and her faction of Apna Dal(K).
Anupriya Patel has decided not to let her party contest against her estranged mother which makes it easier for Krishna Patel since the BJP had given the seat to Anupriya Patel. However, whether Krishna Patel can make an impact on adjoining seats, remains to be seen.
The OBC leadership in the Congress will also be put to test in the coming phases with UPCC president Ajay Kumar Lallu contesting the Tamkuhiraj Assembly seat in Kushinagar.
Lallu is facing challenge from SP and BJP and a faction within his own party.
The result of his election will also decide his future as UPCC president in the Congress.