The Dalits inhabiting the nondescript hamlets of Mau, living in clusters of thatched houses which bespeak their destitution, have nothing in common with the Muslims who are relatively well-off. Yet, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dalit-Muslim formula is likely to work, as both groups will individually gravitate towards Mayawati, scripting electoral upsets for the SP, which won two of Mau’s four constituencies, and the BJP which was successful in winning the Ghosi Lok Sabha seat that comes in the region. Mau has four constituencies—Mau Sadar, Ghosi, Madhuban and Muhammadabad-Gohna, which is reserved for SCs. All four go to the hustings on Saturday, 4 March.

“Muslim vote aadha aadha ho raha hai. Behenji seat-e nikal lengi. (The Muslim votes are splitting in two halves. Behenji will wrestle out the seats),” Md Hashmi, a resident of Bibipur village in Ghosi, said confidently. He said Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure was good, but Quami Ekta Dal’s merger with the BSP has put the “elephant” ahead of the “cycle”. In 2012, the SP won the seat comfortably, but QEM polled 44,645 votes which catapults the BSP to the top. A division of the Muslim votes will decimate the SP.

But locals said this does not mean the seat will be a cakewalk for Abbas Ansari, son of gangster-turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, who is contesting on a BSP ticket. “The BJP is very much in the race. Not because it won the 2014 elections from Ghosi but because BSP’s 2012 candidate Fagusingh Chouhan, who was dropped to accommodate the Ansari scion, has switched to the BJP. His candidature is posing a formidable challenge to Abbas Ansari,” said Ravi Prakash, another resident in Bibipur, Ghosi, who joined the discussion at a tea stall near Shiva Temple.

But Dr Munna Yadav, who has a small dispensary, refuted the claims. He said the arithmetic strongly favours the BSP, and the QED’s popularity as well as muscle power will bring in Muslims in large numbers. “Akhilesh has done good work. Yadavs will strongly back SP candidate Sudhakar Singh, who is the sitting MLA, but Abbas will win,” he asserted. “Muslims are the largest here, followed by Dalits. Yadavs are third in number and Chouhans fourth. While Dalits are solidly with ‘Behenji’, the fact that Abbas is the only Muslim candidate will bring in 80% of the minority voters to the BSP,” he said, ruling out much of a competition.

The BJP, they said, will get votes on Fagu Singh Chouhan’s personal popularity but that will not be enough to cross the winning margin. “The wave of 2014 is over. It is unlikely that there will be polarisation. The non-Jatav Dalits are back to Behenji’s fold. Some OBCs may vote for the national party, though,” Ravi Prakash and other locals added.

In Akoli vilage, a young man in his early 20s drove away a group of Dalits who had assembled to offer their views about the election to this reporter. “Hamse poochhiye, sir. Yaha sirf cycle hi cycle hai. Fagu Singh aur Abbas to bahri hai. (Get your facts from me, sir. There’s only cycle here. Both Fagu Singh Chouhan and Abbas Ansari are outsiders),” he said domineeringly as he cowed down the shabbily dressed, emaciated group of Dalit men. One of them, however, beckoned this reporter from behind and indicated their preference for the “elephant”, making lip movements.

In Mau, Mukhtar Ansari, though he is lodged in jail, is likely to have a clean sweep. He is the incumbent MLA and had fought the elections in 2012 as QEM candidate. This time, the SP candidate Altaf Ansari’s nomination has been rejected, making Mau a bipolar contest between the gangster and SBSP’s Mahendra Rajbhar who has the BJP’s blessings.

Some locals in Mau said that the Rajbhar votes will move from the BSP to the BJP and so will a major chunk of the SP votes, now that the Congres-SP has no candidate. The BSP’s Bheem Rajbhar had come second in 2012 with 64,306 votes which was made possible by a consolidation of the Rajbhar and Dalit votes.

But a Muslim groceary shop owner contested the claims: “There is no contest in Mau. When Mukhtar sahab can win alone, how can you expect anybody to even come close to him now that the BSP’s votes too are with him?”

In Madhuban, the contest is primarily between the Congress and the BSP. Amresh Chandra Pandey has been fielded on the “hand” symbol after the seat went to the Congress under the alliance pact. “Amresh has a solid chance. The SP leaders are very accessible in Madhuban. They have a good cadre strength, too. The SP votes will move to the Congress en-bloc,” said Md Hashmi.

The Congress-SP votes of 2012, when they are added, stands at 75,000 in Madhuban which the BSP had won with 51,572 seats. But Md Hashmi’s friends reasoned: “You can never say. The QED has its own pockets of influence. If Muslims split, it could be anybody’s game.”

Meanwhile, the Dalits in Parvezpur, who live in make-believe houses that dot its narrow lanes, were reluctant to make their choice public. When this reporter insisted for a long time, they gradually opened up. “We are with Behenji but we are not sure whether we should vote for the BSP. We have no BPL cards, no bank accounts, despite the fact that the ‘elephant’ won here. In any case, we are not sure Behenji will become the Chief Minister,” said Lalsu and Govaria, who identified themselves as non-Jatav Dalits.

Om Prakash, a Dalit carpenter by the roadside in Parvezpur, said he would vote for the BSP. “The SP discriminates against us. We don’t know anybody from the BJP. Hamara bas hathi hi hai (Only the elephant is ours),” he said.

At Pirwal village in Ghosi, the BSP had a one way sweep. In a sparsely populated locality in that hamlet, where only one car passed at one time through its extremely narrow lanes that veered through wheat and mustard fields, Abbas Ansari was making a door-to-door campaign with his entourage. “We see neither the SP nor the BJP as our contenders. My contender is the Prime Minister himself, which is why he was forced to schedule rallies here for the first time,” Abbas told The Sunday Guardian with a grin. He said he was confident the BSP will sweep all four seats. Locals, however, believe the contest is keen in at least Madhuban and Mohammadabad-Gohna.