Call it the politics of matrimony but 'Dadda' (elder brother) Deepanarayan Singh, sitting MLA of Samajwadi Party, is banking on this to help see him through the caste cauldron against his Congress and BJP rivals in the assembly polls in Garotha.
Deepnarayan Singh, alias Dipak Yadav, has built for himself a constituency many in politics would not have thought of -- group marriage.
He contests in the polls against Raja Ranjit Singh Yadav of Congress and BJP's Tikaram Patel.
The group marriage concept has some sort of acceptability in entire Bundelkand region spanning Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Acute poverty is considered the main reason for popularity of this type of marriage particularly among the downtrodden classes.
Yadav, however, denies any political motive behind it.
Yadav has been the national president of SP’s youth wing Lohia Vahini. He started his politics with Congress and was the youngest student union president of Bundelkhand college from NSUI in 1980s.
Having married off almost 700 girls from different castes in his assembly segment, Yadav, called Dadda (elder brother) has extended his reach to a large number of households.
"The logic (is) simple. Marriage of one girl brings him in contact with at least 50 relatives (girls in the family) and going by the number of marriages he has got done, he is personally known to the 35,000 people. All of them may not be voters or voting for him, but that (the marriages) definitely give a personal touch in his relationship to these families (sic)," says Dharmendra Kumar in Jhansi.
By promoting group marriage, Dipak Yadav has sought to shrug off his image of a muscleman.
He describes the cases against him as a "conspiracy" by his rivals and promises to marry off 500 more girls to suitable bachelors irrespective of whether he wins or not in this election.
"This relationship is in fact some sort of guarantee for these women that all is well. Their in-laws generally do not misbehave with them as they are after all Dadda’s sisters. If there is a trouble, Yadav is there to take more than just care of the trouble making in-laws" says Heeralal in Deemar Mohalla of Raksa village.
All these girls in the area, including Muslims, tie a 'Rakhi' for him on Rakshabandhan.
"He invites all of us and honours us on Rakshabhandan. After we tie the Rakhi, he gives us gifts like suit pieces and saree. Dadda keeps us calling in between also to inquire whether we have any problem", says Rukhsana of Madarganj in Month area. She was married in a group marriage in 1998. Her mother Sulatana is happy her daughter is settled well with her in-laws but adds "if there is a problem, Dadda is there."
As one drives in and around the Jhansi city, the walls are littered with announcements of group marriages.
"These marriages generally take place between February and March and preferably on the auspicious occasion of Akhsya Tritiya. Some forward castes like Agrawals and Kushwahas have also adopted the practice to cut down expenditure on food and decoration in individual marriages," says Brajendra Singh Chauhan, a college teacher.
Yadav’s reach among women voters could be crucial. The assembly segment has over 143,000 voters.
Dipak Yadav may be dismissive of Congress and BJP and claims his margin of victory will go up in a direct contest with BSP but supporters of Raja Ranjit Singh Yadav popularly known as Samthar Raja say their leader is not to be underestimated.
Raja is a veteran who had represented the seat at least five times including in 1977 even when there was a strong anti-Congress wave.
In the last election, Yadav had got about 59,000 votes and Raja 45,000. BSP managed to get 27,000 votes.
The fact that Samthar Raja spends most of his time in Lucknow is something his opponents are trying to cash in on. His age is another factor. He had contested the last election saying it would be his last, says Amit Kumar Yadav.
Congress led by Rahul Gandhi in UP is hoping to regain glory in Bundelkhand riding on UPA’s special package for the impoverished region and Gandhi’s efforts to woo Dalits.
Tikaram Patel hails from Kurmi community which has sizeable votes in the constituency. Patel, a Zila Panchayat member, was denied ticket by BSP in last three assembly elections at the last moment.
This time, BSP has given ticket to Devesh Paliwal, a kin of Krishnachandra Paliwal family, in a bid to check Brahmin votes from tilting towards the Congress. The Paliwals were traditionally associated with Congress.
Ahhirvars or Jatavs constitute around 36,000 votes, followed by 29,000 of Yadavs, 19,000 Kushwahas and Brahmins each, Dheemar, Kori and Brar (SCs) around 10,000 each, 14,000, Muslims and 7,000 Rajputs.