The Samajwadi Party's plan to field Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt for the prestigious Lucknow parliamentary seat from Uttar Pradesh does not bring good tidings for the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Lucknow even as the move has found support among some sections of people.
Dutt's name is bound to have caused a flutter in BSP circles as party supremo and Chief Minister Mayawati's blue-eyed boy, party general scretary Akhilesh Das, was declared as the nominee for the Lucknow seat several months ago.
Party sources say the BSP has got down to building a lobby to oppose Dutt's nomination on the plea that he was convicted under the tough anti-terrorist law - the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) - for arms posession in connection with the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
But the BSP is putting up a brave face.
"There is no question of our complaining against Dutt to the Election Commission; why should we make him a hero? He may be a film actor, but in Lucknow he is nothing," said Swami Prasad Maurya, BSP spokesperson and a close aide of Mayawati.
He said despite Dutt in the fray, "the fight doesn't change at all."
BSP candidate Das has pumped in millions here in the hope of smoothsailing. What had boosted his morale was the failure of any key opposition party to name a strong contender from Lucknow for the April-May general elections until Dutt's name was put forth by the Samajwadi Party last week.
It was former prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee's decision not to seek re-election from what was his political bastion for five successive terms that had left the Lucknow Lok Sabha turf open to all.
Neither the BJP nor the Congress were able to give a name that could to take the charismatic political stalwart's place.
Das was declared the official BSP candidate for the next Lok Sabha poll here amid a publicity blitz. Dutt's arrival on the scene may therefore throw a spanner in the works.
Said another BSP leader: "The Samajwadi Party had earlier also tried two Bollywood people - Raj Babbar and Muzaffar Ali - in successive elections during the 1990s. While Babbar lost by a margin of 118,000 votes in 1996, Ali lagged behind by a margin of 216,000 votes."
Samajwadi Party state general secretary Devendra Chaudhary however said: "But that was against Atal Bihari Vajpayee, not against the pygmies in the fray now.
"Sanjay's conviction would not come in the way; I am sure the courts will permit him to go ahead just as they did in the case of cricketer-turned-BJP MP Navjyot Singh Siddhu who was also convicted of culpable homicide."
Dutt's potential as a popular choice is clearly visible not only among youth of the city but also among Muslims who constitute more than 30 per cent of the electorate in Lucknow.
"We will go for Sanjay Dutt, I am sure he will do much more for this city than any run of the mill politician has ever done," said Someshwar Tripathi, a Lucknow University MA student.
Kanika Sharma, who is studying at a women's college in Lucknow, said: "I would vote for him because he is the only one who could give the BSP nominee a run for his money."
Dutt's post-"Munnabhai" image, which has him espousing Gandhian ideals in two subsequent films, is expected to weigh in his favour even as he has been convicted in real life.
"I am aware that he is convicted under TADA, but then it is also said he was targeted simply because his illustrious actor father, Sunil Dutt, had gone out of his way to help Muslims in distress after the 1992 communal riots," said Maulana Khalid Rasheed, Lucknow's young Naib Imam who also heads the city's oldest Islamic seminary, Firangi Mahal.
The same, however, does not hold true for Dutt's wife Manyata, whom Samajwadi Party strongman Amar Singh has suddenly decided to project as an alternative nominee in case the actor is not allowed to contest for legal reasons.
"Who is Manyata? She cannot be a substitute for Sanjay," was the common refrain of many who support the idea of Dutt contesting.