The divide was stark. Behind the raised shutters of the shop, which functioned as the office of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Malhani constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district, stood young men wearing sneakers. On the outer edge sat older men in chappals.

One of the young men, 28-year-old Ram Milan Yadav, explained: “Humara do sangathan chal raha hai.” We have two groups at work.

“One is the Vivek Yadav group,” he said, gesturing at the young men who were almost entirely from the Yadav caste and were supporters of Vivek Yadav, the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate from Malhani. “The other is the Bahujan Samaj Party group,” he added, turning to the old men.

“Dono mil ke kaam kar rahe hain, alag alag nahi,” Yadav hastened to clarify. Both groups were working in tandem.

The old men nodded in agreement. They were Dalits from the Chamar caste, to which Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati belongs. One of them, Radheshyam Gautam, the sector sachiv of the party, said: “Whoever Behenji blesses, we work for them.” Gautam had joined the party in 1984, the year it was formed, and had campaigned for every candidate since then.

Not that the candidate mattered, said Ram Lakhan Gautam, but Vivek Yadav was a decent man who belonged to a prominent family. “Khandaani hai, parivaar sahi hai.” Vivek Yadav’s grandfather Raj Bahadur Yadav had won Assembly elections three times as an independent. His uncle Arjun Yadav had also been elected to both the state Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

But it isn’t just political lineage, Ram Milan Yadav intervened: Vivek Yadav was also a man of formidable wealth. The family’s businesses incuded “a finance company, six colleges, two cold storages, four brick kilns, six petrol pumps and one gas agency”.

“Inko paisa ka gham nahi tha, inko career ka gham tha,” said Yadav. Vivek Yadav did not lack money, he only lacked a career.

The Bahujan Samaj Party office in Sikrara block of Malhani constituency in Jaunpur district.
The Bahujan Samaj Party office in Sikrara block of Malhani constituency in Jaunpur district.

Like many other young scions of political families in India, Vivek Yadav went abroad to acquire a management degree, but came back to pursue politics. His return to Jaunpur in 2008 was well-timed. Another foreign-returned dynast, Akhilesh Yadav, the son of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, was trying to find his feet in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. Vivek Yadav became an ally.

But the proximity did not help. In 2012, Vivek Yadav’s ambition to contest his maiden election from Malhani was thwarted. Delimitation had altered the boundaries and caste composition of many constituencies in Jaunpur, including Mariyahu, which had twice elected Parasnath Yadav, a senior leader of the party and a close confidante of Mulayam. Parasnath staked claim to Malhani and won it. Vivek Yadav quit the Samajwadi Party.

In Delhi, a friend from his student days abroad introduced him to Anand Kumar, Mayawati’s brother. In 2015, Yadav joined the party. In May 2016, he got a BSP ticket.

Vivek Yadav on the Bahujan Samaj Party's poster.
Vivek Yadav on the Bahujan Samaj Party's poster.

Ram Milan Yadav is a road contractor. He wasn’t always on the side of Vivek Yadav. “I was a shishya (disciple) of Parasnath,” he said. Even before he became a contractor, early in his life, he said he realised that the path to success in Uttar Pradesh ran through politics. “You can’t do any work here without political support,” he emphasised.

As a Yadav, it was natural for him to join the Samajwadi Party in his student years and gravitate to its most powerful leader in Jaunpur, Parasnath. Simultaneously, Ram Milan maintained cordial relations with Vivek Yadav.

But in 2012 he was forced to make a choice. He chose Vivek. “Parasnath Ji har Yadav ko daabne ka kaam karte the,” he said. Parasnath suppressed every other Yadav leader. “He was insecure about Vivek and did not want competition for his son Lucky.”

But why should that matter to Ram Milan? Given his pragmatism, didn’t it make more sense for him to stick to Parasnath, who was the established leader?

Ram Milan smiled. “Aaj jo main contractor ka kaam kar raha hoon, Vivek Yadav ne paisa lagaya hai usme.” Vivek Yadav had invested Rs 20 lakh in Ram Milan’s business.

Not only did he give the seed capital, he even put in a word in the right places: “He had a good relationship with Akhilesh. That helped me get a contract in the municipal corporation.”

It was payback time now. In the election, Ram Milan is spending his own money on Vivek Yadav’s campaign. The expenditure isn’t limited to just organising meetings and motorcycle rallies. On the phone, Ram Milan was heard asking a surgeon to admit a patient for free. “Aap admit kijeye. I will pay for his treatment,” he said.

His stake in the election was high, he claimed: “Har vyakti Vivek Yadav ban ke kaam kar raha hai.” Every supporter is working as hard as Vivek Yadav.

Ram Milan Yadav is a key aide of Vivek Yadav.
Ram Milan Yadav is a key aide of Vivek Yadav.

Reciprocity is the lifeblood of politics.

According to one apocryphal story that circulates in Jaunpur, even Parasnath Yadav owes his entry into politics to a quid pro quo. His uncle was a daroga or policeman. At a political rally organised by Mulayam Yadav, someone opened fire and he bore the bullets and saved Netaji’s life. Another version of the story claims that the uncle died while saving an abducted child, an act that impressed Mulayam.

Either way, his uncle’s sacrifice brought young Parasnath into Mulayam’s close circle. He became a loyal aide and went on to win eight elections. “No credit to him,” said Shalik Ram Yadav, a 65-year-old farmer who is a supporter of the Samajwadi Party but a critic of Parasnath. “Chahe kitne bhi nalayak ko khaali Mulayam ke naam pe paate hai.” However useless he is, he gets votes in the name of Mulayam.

It is apparent that in Malhani, a large number of Yadavs aren’t enthused by Parasnath’s candidature. There is anger over how he has promoted his family – his wife is a block pramukh, his son and daughter-in-law are members of the zilla panchayat.

Parasnath’s campaign managers are trying hard to undercut the anti-incumbency against him by foregrounding Akhilesh Yadav. “The chief minister has done very good work,” said Gulab Yadav. “People want him back.”

Oddly, even Vivek Yadav’s supporters share the sentiment. The candidate’s Facebook page says: “Kaho dil se, Behenji phir se”. Speak from your heart, ask for the return of Behenji. But sitting in the Bahujan Samaj Party office, his supporter Sanjay Yadav said: “Every child is saying: UP mein Akhilesh, Malhani mein Vivek.” Pick Akhilesh for UP and Vivek for Malhani.

Parasnath Yadav's poster on an electricity pole in the village of Baksha in Jaunpur district.
Parasnath Yadav's poster on an electricity pole in the village of Baksha in Jaunpur district.

When Vivek Yadav joined the Bahujan Samaj Party, Ram Milan claims Akhilesh Yadav summoned him and asked him why his leader had left.

“I said, ‘To become the MLA from Malhani,’” recounted Ram Milan.

Akhilesh Yadav replied: “Career lamba tha, ruk sakte the.” He had a long career, he could have been more patient.

December, however, tested the patience of Akhilesh Yadav himself. A bitter feud broke out within the family, and the chief minister was pitted against his father and uncle for control over the party. For once, there was a possibility the party would split. At that time, Ram Milan claims Vivek Yadav got an offer: ditch the Bahujan Samaj Party and join the Akhilesh faction of the Samajwadi Party.

“He turned down the offer,” said Ram Milan. “Our main focus is to defeat Paras. Once that happens, our path will be clear.”

Does that mean Vivek is waiting for the opportune time to return to the Samajwadi Party?

“Agli baar dekhenge.” We will see the next time.

Vivek Yadav campaigning in Dakshinpatti village, seven kilometres from Baksha.
Vivek Yadav campaigning in Dakshinpatti village, seven kilometres from Baksha.

On his campaign trail, Vivek Yadav did nothing to dispel the doubts over where his loyalties lie. Asked what he thought about the performance of the Akhilesh Yadav government, he broke into a smile. “No comments,” he said. “My fight is with the candidate, not the leader.”

The two dozen young men accompanying him were all Yadavs. Where were the other supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party? “Wo bolte hai hume dekhne ki zaroorat nahi hai. Aap Yadav judo bas. Hum to hai hi aapke.” They say don’t worry about us, just get the Yadavs. We are already yours.

This election, the Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded 17 Yadav candidates – more than double the number in 2012, perhaps an all-time high. The calculation is that the generational schisms within the Samajwadi Party will help fracture the Yadav vote.

It is a risky gambit, given what many Yadav voters of Malhani said: “Behen Kumari Mayawati se grihna hai.” We abhor Mayawati. Disenchanted by Parasnath, reluctant to vote for the BSP, some said they were keeping their eyes trained on the young chief minister: “Akhilesh ko bhi dekhna hai.”

A few appeared to tilt towards Dhananjay Singh, the bahubali candidate of the NISHAD party. “Bhale hi criminal hai, chavvi badhia hai, ameer gareeb ki suna hai.” He might be a criminal, but he has a good image, he listens to both the rich and the poor.

In the Harijan basti of Baksha, the Dalits said they did not have much of a choice. Bhole Nath explained: “Where will we go? Even if we vote for someone else, they will not believe us. So why waste our vote?”

The Bahujan Samaj Party is known for picking wealthy candidates.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is known for picking wealthy candidates.

Over the last few weeks leading up to the Uttar Pradesh elections, Scroll.in’s ‘A Village Votes’ series has brought readers glimpses of how the residents of Baksha, a village of 2,500 people in the eastern part of the state, are making up their minds about whom to support. The previous parts of the series can be read here.