After his mission to deny Ahmed Patel re-election to the Rajya Sabha flopped last year, Amit Shah has a new target: Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP.
On Friday, Uttar Pradesh will decide 10 of its 31 seats in the Upper House. Till just hours before nominations closed on the 12th, there were 10 candidates for the 10 seats - 8 from the BJP and one each from Mayawati's BSP and Akhilesh Yadavs's Samajwadi Party or SP.
Each of the three parties was confident.
To win, a candidate must get the votes of 37 MLAs or state legislators. The BJP has more than 300, so its eight candidates were safe. The SP, with 47, had 10 to spare. Mayawati had 19. The Congress said its seven MLAs would support her candidate. Now she needed 11 more - the SP said it would give her its surplus 10 and Ajit Singh's party loaned her one more. So her candidate would make it.
Not if Amit Shah could help it. A series of nth-hour manoeuvres saw an extra or 9th BJP candidate entering the contest. This meant that it was Mayawati, who had the least votes, who was in jeopardy.
The competition is now between her candidate - a Dalit and former MLA called Bhim Rao Ambedkar and the BJP's Anil Agarwal, an upper caste industrialist.
Amit Shah then welcomed serial defector Naresh Agarwal - who has served with the Congress, the BSP and most recently, the SP. Naresh Agarwal's son is an SP legislator - the arrangement with the BJP makes it incumbent upon him to vote for its candidate. That means Mayawati is at least one vote short (remember she was getting 10 from the SP).
After that stealth attack of sorts by Amit Shah, the Congress and the SP have been worried about more exits - or cross-voting. The BJP, on the other hand, is on a treasure hunt for legislators who can be 'persuaded' to defy their parties and vote for its ninth candidate. Amit Shah calls it "political manoeuvring".
The Congress is confident that its seven MLAs will follow instructions, but Akhilesh Yadav's party is more vulnerable. At least seven of its 47 law-makers who are loyal to his uncle and long-time critic Shivpal Yadav could vote against their own party - and/or Mayawati. This was witnessed last year when the same group crossed the line to back the BJP's candidate for President of India, Ram Nath Kovind.
Samajwadi leaders say the Yadavs have settled their family dispute, forging a new solidarity within party workers. "The feud is a thing of the past,'' proclaimed influential SP leader Rajendra Chowdhury. "Even Shivpal-ji has acknowledged his nephew's hard work."
But it is not the family's somewhat forced cohesion that's serving as glue within the SP. Just weeks ago, Akhilesh Yadav persuaded Mayawati to abandon a 25-year rivalry with his father; she supported his candidates in crucial by-elections for two parliamentary seats of gigantic importance - they were held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya.The combined force of the SP and Mayawati's supporters defeated the BJP in a radical shift for the opposition's strike rate in recent elections. "Our spectacular performance in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections has put Akhilesh Yadav firmly in control of the party and the victories will certainly impact the decision of anyone who was thinking of rebelling," claimed Rajendra Chowdhury.
With those electoral victories as enormous teaching moment, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati and their teams have presumably recognized the worth of sticking together. Which is why the SP hopes its legislators will not turn rogue in the Rajya Sabha election.
The BJP's final entrant, Anil Agarwal, goes into the election with his party's residual 28 votes; he needs just nine more to keep the BSP out. The party also has the support of three independents and a prospective turncoat in Vijay Mishra, the lone lawmaker from the NISHAD party, which rests on a support base of fishermen who form about 4% of the state's population. Vijay Mishra, known as a local strongman, had represented the SP thrice as a law-maker till Akhilesh Yadav refused to let him contest last year's state election. He promptly joined the NISHAD party which was looking for contestants with money and muscle power who were sure shots. NISHAD party president Dr Sanjay Nishad told NDTV that his MLA would not betray the opposition on the Rajya Sabha vote, but Vijay Mishra is known to, given the choice, opt for self-interest.
This roiling of what lies beneath is a problem for the BSP, but it's not as if the BJP has its ducks in a row either. For its ninth candidate, the BJP is relying on two allies, Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, which has a representative in Yogi Adityanath's cabinet.