Charan Singh's grandson is up against sitting MLA Shyam Sundar Sharma

Across the Yamuna, just off Mathura, lies the sleepy township of Manth. But its idyllic appearance is deceptive, for Manth is bracing for one of the most fiercely fought Assembly election battles in this ‘Braj Bhoomi' part of western Uttar Pradesh.

On the cards is a direct contest between Mathura MP and Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary and sitting MLA Shyam Sundar Sharma. If Mr. Chaudhary boasts an impressive lineage — he is the grandson of Jat leader and former Prime Minister Charan Singh and son of Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh — Sharma, has experience and reputation on his side, having won the last seven elections on the trot from Manth. Sharma has also done a stint as a minister in the Mayawati government.

But this is not the only striking thing about this election. Chaudhary and Sharma had faced off in the 2009 Lok Sabha election too. Of course, that verdict went in favour of Chaudhary, and indeed in the Manth assembly segment itself, he led by a margin of over 40,000 votes. So why is Chaudhary contesting to become an MLA? The question is weighing on the minds of the electorate which believes that he has a fair chance of becoming the Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister should the RLD-Congress combine manage to score big.

At 33, Chaudhary is already a veteran of many electoral battles. Having decisively put down Sharma in 2009, the youth leader, many believe, now wants to end the legacy of his more experienced rival. The fact that Sharma has quit the BSP with its guaranteed Dalit vote ought to also help Chaudhary. And yet Chaudhary can hardly take his own victory for granted. For one, his party has switched loyalties from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress which has minimal appeal here.

So, as medical practitioner Sompal, who retired from the Government health centre in Manth, says: “The election this time will be much closer. People here have not known any other MLA for a long time now.”

Chaudhary, who holds an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, is hoping to add Thakur votes to his large Jat vote base, on the strength of his party district president being a Thakur and the RLD ticket being awarded to Thakur candidates in the Goverdhan and Chhata Assembly segments of Mathura. On the other hand, Chaudhary has to reckon with Independent candidate Ram Babu Katelia, a Jat village leader who launched a popular movement against the Yamuna Expressway project. Then there is Rampal Singh, the BSP candidate, who is fighting on the plank of development. The Mayawati Government's Rs 500 crore package for the Mathura-Vrindavan area has led to massive development of roads and other infrastructure in the belt and Singh is eyeing the significant Thakur vote.

For Sharma, this is probably the toughest battle of his life. Sharma's father, Lokmani Sharma was an MLA and his son Lalit Sharma is chairman of the District Cooperative Bank. “His forte is his knowledge of the people and he knows hundreds by their first name,'' says advocate and educationist Mahendra Pratap Singh.

For BJP, there is not much hope here as its candidate Pranat Pal Singh, the sitting MLA from neighbouring Gokul, was forced to moved Manth after his constituency became reserved in the 2008 delimitation.