Seeking a new lease of life after a severe drubbing it got in the last Lok Sabha polls and later in its home state Uttar Pradesh, Dalit leader Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party is keen to make its presence felt in Madhya Pradesh and its strategy is to capitalise on its strength in areas on border of the two states.
The BSP, which was a key force to reckon with in Uttar Pradesh till a few years ago and had even started making big inroads in the national politics, wants to be seen in Madhya Pradesh as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, who have always been in a direct fight for power in the state.
While the BJP has been in power for 15 continuous years in this vast state with 230 assembly seats and a voter base of over five crore people, its main challenger has always been the Congress, which used to rule the state before being ousted by the saffron party in 2003.
However, the BSP over the years has made its presence felt in the areas adjoining the border with Uttar Pradesh, namely Bundelkhand, Chambal and Vindhya regions that are dominated by people from the SC, ST and OBC classes.
With an aim to reach "Bhopal via Bundelkhand" eventually, the BSP's objective for this election is to play the role of a kingmaker, the party leaders said.
Atar Singh Rao, the BSP's Madhya Pradesh unit coordinator, said the party is contesting on all 230 seats but its election strategy is focused on being a kingmaker in Madhya Pradesh.
"BSP has strong base in Bundelkhand, Chambal and Vindhya regions, but in this election, our party will expand its base in the entire state," he said.
In last two assembly elections, the BSP emerged as the third largest party in terms of vote percentage and number of winning candidates. It secured 8.9 per cent votes and seven seats in 2008, but its tally fell to four seats and 6.29 per cent votes in 2013.
So far, the party has been getting electoral success from Chambal (Morena and Gwalior districts) and Vindhya regions (Satna and Rewa districts).
Rao, a BSP MLC from Uttar Pradesh, said there is a huge anti-incumbency wave against 15 years rule of BJP in Madhya Pradesh and voters are also angry at what he called an "anti-poor attitude of Congress" in Madhya Pradesh.
He alleged that the BJP and the Congress are two sides of the same coin and therefore voters are looking for a better option.
"The BSP is emerging as a natural alternative in this election," Rao claimed,
In Bundelkhand region, some leaders claim there is a "silent mutual understanding" with Samajwadi Party (SP), keeping in mind the caste-based social equations to prevent polarisation of votes in favour of BJP.
While a formal alliance could not be reached between the Congress, SP and BSP for these assembly elections, the political pundits feel the BJP remains the common rival for all three and therefore a 'mutual understanding' has been reached regarding candidates in the Bundelkhand, Vindhya and Chambal areas.
Samajwadi Party's Madhya Pradesh unit in-charge Anand Bhadauria serious efforts need to be made for a possible alliance between the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh to ensure the BJP's defeat in the 2019 general elections.
"For some reasons, the Congress, SP and BSP were not able to do an alliance in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, but it is also true that the BJP is the common rival for all of us," he said.
Keeping in mind the social and political equations, the three parties have selected suitable candidates who can defeat the BJP at their own level, Bhadauria said.
Both the SP and the BSP have strong base in Uttar Pradesh and therefore the areas on the UP border of Madhya Pradesh are important to them.
In Chhattisgarh, the BSP has tied up with the party of former chief minister Ajit Jogi, who has already proposed Mayawati as the next prime ministerial candidate. Jogi is the alliance's chief ministerial candidate for Chhattisgarh, where the BJP has been in power for 15 years just like Madhya Pradesh.
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh together account for 40 Lok Sabha seats, including 15 reserved for SC/ST candidates.
In UP, where Mayawati remains a strong force despite the drubbing her party got in recent polls, there are 80 Lok Sabha seats, including 17 reserved for SC.
The BSP also has some presence in Delhi, Haryana, Telangana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Bihar.
Mayawati served as Uttar Pradesh's chief minister for three brief periods, first being in 1995, before a full five-year tenure during 2007-2012. However, her last term was also marked with allegations of corruption.
Besides, she has had three terms each in Lok Sabha and in Rajya Sabha.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP did not get a single seat but it was the third largest party in terms of vote share (over 4 per cent with nearly 2.3 crore voters). The party candidates came second on as many as 34 seats, while its vote share in Uttar Pradesh was nearly 20 per cent.
The BSP had won 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 elections. In the Uttar Pradesh assembly, the BSP had got 206 out of 403 assembly seats in 2007, but the tally plunged to 80 in 2012 and even deeper to just 19 in 2017.