Gandhi, BSP's Brahmin leader Pawan Pandey and 12 others are up against 'Raani sahiba' Amita Singh who is fighting her first parliamentary election on Congress ticket after her
husband and sitting MP Sanjay Singh, known as 'Raja sahib', was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the party a few months ago.

Pandey has more than 30 cases, including serious charges of murder and rioting against him.

While Congress had won from this seat seven times from 1951-1984, BJP won it thrice between 1991 and 1998. Mayawati's BSP secured the seat twice in 1999 and 2004. In 2009, Singh defeated BSP's Mohammed Tahir by 98,779 votes.

Political circles are abuzz with talk of "lotus bloom" after Gandhi's advent here from Pilibhit, where he last time won by a whopping margin of 2.8 lakh votes.

Observers say Congress finds itself on a sticky wicket at Sultanpur seat, adjacent to Nehru-Gandhi family bastions of Raebareli and Amethi, with SP and BSP also having fielded strong local candidates, who are campaigning aggressively.

Congress' famed grip in nearby areas, however, appears to be on the wane as it had lost in all five Assembly segments of Sultanpur in 2012 Assembly elections.

Eyeing Muslim votes, Samajwadi Party has fielded Shakeel Ahmed, a transporter. Muslim youths in Rasoolabad, Harakpur, Meenapur, Aliganj and Islamganj seem inclined towards SP, though a divide in Muslim votes primarily between SP and Congress cannot be ruled out.

What also works to Ahmed's advantage, say political pundits, is that BSP has dropped its Muslim candidate, Tahir, a former MP, who was the runner up in the 2009 polls.

Some say it is too early to write off the strength of Singh as the erstwhile 'raja' has a strong loyal band of supporters, who would rally behind Amita as well.

Sultanpur has a sizeable Dalit population. With BSP having replaced Tahir with Pandey, all eyes are on Dalit-Brahmin combination votes. BSP -favourite of Dalits- at the moment
appears to be stealing a march over rivals when it comes to identity politics, the core of parties in the Hindi heartland.

On the other hand, BJP is hoping that caste combinations crumble in the constituency under the impact of Gandhi surname and 'Modi wave', marking a turnaround for the party here after its vote share hit lows in past three elections.

(Agencies)

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