The Lucknow seat was thrice represented by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The political bugle in Lucknow was blown on Saturday as the two main contenders — Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh and former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi filed their nominations from the State capital.

Interacting with journalists soon after filing his papers, Mr. Singh lashed out at the Congress calling it the “biggest communal party” in the country. He said successive Congress governments had failed to establish social or communal harmony in the country, while questioning the timing of the Cobrapost sting operation on Babri Masjid demolition. Dismissing the sting operation, he said the matter was sub-judice.

Divisive politics: Rita Bahuguna

Ms. Joshi, while flaying the BJP for indulging in divisive politics, took a dig at the BJP chief saying he had a history of deserting seats (Mirzapur (Assembly seat) and Ghaziabad). “This time he will leave Lucknow after losing,” she said.

Mr. Singh’s nomination papers were proposed by Lucknow MP Lalji Tandon, city Mayor Dinesh Sharma, former mayor S. C. Rai and senior High Court counsel L.P. Misra.

Mr. Tandon and Mr. Rai had also been proposers of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he had contested from the seat winning it five times in a row until ill-health forced him out of public life in 2004.

Mr. Singh is evoking Mr. Vajpayee’s legacy to win the seat and even flaunted an angvastram (stole) gifted by the former PM during his nomination.

Extending “full support” to Mr. Singh’s campaign, Mr. Tandon, a close aide of Mr. Vajpayee, said: “Every time I have proposed the nominations for any candidate, the elections have been considered won since day one.”

In 2009, Ms. Joshi lost to Mr. Tandon by 40,000 votes but she has the daunting task of overcoming the former UP CM this time.

Observers believe that the contest will be a close one as Ms. Joshi will bank on the support of her community (Brahmins, 3 lakh) and Pahadi Uttarakhandis (1.75 lakh).

However, the support of the 3.5 lakh Muslim voters will be critical in deciding the winner. Detractors of Mr. Singh hold that unlike Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Tandon, he could face difficulties in mobilising Muslim support in Lucknow.

The Muslim factor in the constituency has assumed further significance with actor Javed Jaffrey entering the fray on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket.