Old timers in this town remember a young Mayawati canvassing for votes on a cycle. She would stop anywhere, eat with anyone on the road, and talk to the young and the old before pedalling away.
Mayawati came third behind Meira Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan the first time she fought a Parliamentary by-election in 1985 from Bijnor. She was barely 27 then but the election result gave the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) enough encouragement to field 18 candidates in a local bodies election in the district in 1988.
The party won 11 out of 18 seats and in the remaining seven, the candidates came a close second. "In the 1989 assembly election, BSP fielded candidates in all seven segments in Bijnor, winning three and again coming second in the remaining four. One could say that both Mayawati and BSP were born in Bijnor," said OP Gupta, political watcher and former principal of the Vardhaman PG College. Interestingly, in the 2004 election, the BSP had come either first or second in more than 200 assembly segments in the state.
In the run up to her political maturity, Mayawati – the first woman Dalit chief minister in the country - base comprised Muslims and Dalits. Now, more than two decades later, she is trying to add a third dimension to her political base, the upper castes, and has fielded 86 such candidates. In Bijnor, BSP has two upper caste candidates Ashok Rana Thakur (Dhampur) and Thakur Yashpal Singh (Siwara).
Will BSP's new caste alliance work? In the villages around Bijnor town, it seems clear that Dalit and other backward caste votes are more or less bound to go to Mayawati. Villagers were evasive, saying that the contests would be triangular.
But the one common factor invariably was the "hathi", the BSP symbol. Be it Harpool from Timarpur village or Mukesh from Dharamnagri, the refrain were either, "Congress, BJP and BSP" or "RLD, SP and BSP".
The fact the Mayawati is attempting to woo upper castes seemingly does not matter to BSP supporters in villages, locally known as `harijan bastis'. "We have been with BSP for many years. People here fail that even if an upper caste member wins from BSP, the party would take care of our needs," said Tekchand of Timarpur village.
Among the Muslims too, Mayawati has sway, even it is because of the candidate and not the party. In Bijnor, BSP has put up Shahnawaz Rana, who enjoys a clean reputation and also has hold over a cluster of Muslim-dominated villages because of family connections.
"We are supporting the candidate and not the party. Rana's mother's side has relatives here," Mohammad Sadaaf, of Begawala village said nonchalantly, while tuning into Himesh Reshammiya. The Party, however, would also face competition for the Muslim vote share from Samajwadi Party.
About upper caste support, however, Professor Gupta is not too sure. "The upper castes may vote for BSP where upper caste candidates have been fielded by the Party. But where the BSP has fielded Dalits and lower caste candidates, it is highly unlikely that the BSP would get any upper caste vote," Gupta said.