Bareilly, April 17: Mulayam Singh Yadav was told by Muslim clerics when he was here to campaign last week that they held special prayers for his success in this election.
But many in the chief ministers own party arent sure if the prayers would save his Samajwadi Party from a drubbing.
The big question in the third phase of elections on Wednesday, in the Rohilkhand region, is whether Mulayam will be able to retain his Muslim votes. While the chief ministers win from Gunnaur the second seat hes contesting doesnt look difficult, other candidates are worried about a loss of Muslim votes. Some are blaming it on the anti-incumbency factor at work.
Poll fortunes in the Rohilkhand region, on the states north-west flank, are often shaped in the Bareilly division, home to a large number of Muslims. In fact, the community influences outcomes in at least 23 of the regions 57 seats where the Samajwadi Party is facing multi-cornered contests.
The party, which had bagged 25 seats in the 2002 elections, has run into rival sects of Muslim leaders, with some telling supporters that Maulana Mulayam is in league with the BJP.
There are reasons why the barbs are flying.
Mulayam has fielded former BJP MLA Sandeep Agarwal from Moradabad. Sandeep was at the forefront of campaigns against Muslims, and is a close relative of a top Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader.
In Sambhal, Bareilly, Pilibhit and Chandausi, too, Samajwadi Party candidates fear a split in Muslim votes. They have reason to.
Some clerics of the Barelvi sect support Mulayam, but other sects flock to Rahul Gandhis rallies.
In Rampur, where Muslims form 62 per cent of the voters, the Congress has fielded candidates from the community. In Sahabad, Guddi Begum has fired up the Congresss hopes.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, which had won only nine seats in the Rohilkhand region, is trying to cash in on the disillusionment against Mulayam. Its leaders on the campaign trail have accused the Samajwadi Party of flirting with the BJP.
If the Muslim votes are, indeed, split, some of the gains could go to the BJP, which has launched a campaign against the policy of Muslim appeasement to polarise Hindu votes.
The party had won 11 seats in the region in the 2002 Assembly polls.
The Congress, desperate to improve its tally of four Rohilkhand seats in the last election, is betting on Rahul to work the magic on the voters. The crowds hes been drawing on the campaign trail has given the party hope.