Battle lines were drawn in eastern Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday with the Samajwadi Party announcing that party president Mulayam Singh would contest the Lok Sabha elections from Azamgarh, besides Mainpuri.

The move to field Mr Singh from Azamgarh, a constituency dominated by Yadavs and Muslims which is contiguous with Varanasi, is seen as an attempt to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party. SP sources said by fielding Mr. Singh from Azamgarh, the party hopes it would have a cascading effect on other constituencies and would prevent the BJP from capitalising on the “Modi effect.”

On Saturday, the BJP announced that its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi would contest from Varanasi. The hope is that this will beef up the party’s poll prospects in eastern U.P.

The SP announcement by party general secretary, Ram Gopal Yadav, ended months of speculation over the possibility of Mr. Singh, the sitting MP from Mainpuri, contesting from Azamgarh, considered a politically crucial seat in eastern UP.

Reacting to Mr. Singh's decision to contest from Mainpuri and Azamgarh, the BJP said it was a sign of the SP’s “nervousness” over the ‘Modi wave’ sweeping across the country. “The SP is rattled by the Modi wave and the SP chief is making desperate efforts to protect his fort. But the Modi wave spreads across the State, so how many seats will Mulayam Singh contest to counter this wave,” BJP spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak asked.

The SP chief’s decision to contest from Azamgarh is seen as an attempt to galvanise SP workers as well as to reinforce his “commitment” towards Muslims. Azamgarh had supported the party overwhelmingly in the 2012 Assembly elections. It enabled the SP to win nine out of the 12 Assembly seats in Azamgarh district.

However, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, political equations may not be the same for the SP as they were in 2012. The Akhilesh Yadav Government’s attempts to withdraw cases against innocent Muslims — many of whom are from Azamgarh — languishing in jails on terror charges has not made much headway. Sources said the Yadavs of eastern U.P. too were feeling disillusioned with the ruling party.

In Azamgarh, the SP chief will cross swords with sitting BJP MP, Ramakant Yadav, who was earlier in the SP. “The SP will win all the 25 seats in Purvanchal (eastern U.P.). We are grateful to Netaji for accepting the proposal to contest from Azamgarh,” Panchayati Raj Minister Balram Yadav told The Hindu.

Azamgarh and Varanasi are among the 18 seats in Purvanchal where polling will be held on May 12. In the 2009 election, the SP had won six, the BSP five, BJP four and Congress three of these 18 seats.

(With additional reporting by Omar Rashid)

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