On a wintry evening, a pandit held forth at a roadside dhaba in Balrampur.
"Sita Ramji will win," he declared, sipping his tea. His audience agreed. "Masterji (as the Peace Party candidate is popularly known) is getting 75% of the Muslim and 25% of the Hindu votes." The group predicted a dozen-odd wins for the Peace Party, which is contesting around 220 seats in UP.
The party has even convinced some that it would give the state its first Muslim chief minister, the way BSP provided its first Dalit chief minister. Like the BSP, it has created its base among the backward classes — particularly Muslims.
The chief ministership dream may be a long way off for the Peace Party. For now, what is certain is that it would play spoiler and bag a pivotal role in case of a fractured verdict.
Not everyone, though, agrees."The Peace Party hopes to be a spoiler, but I think the minorities and right-thinking individuals will vote to defeat Mayawati," said Jayant Chaudhary of RLD.
Asked if the party would cut into Muslim votes, senior SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said, "In very few places".
While it might not be perceived as a big challenger, the track record of the Peace Party has certainly been interesting.
From a small beginning, it had made its mark in the 2010 assembly by-polls. In Domariaganj, it ended third, polling 17.69% votes. In Lakhimpur-Kheri, it finished second, with 18.36% votes.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh and senior SP leader Mohd Azam Khan had recently declared that Peace Party founder Dr Mohammad Ayub is a protégé of Mahant Yogi Adityanath and the party has been floated by the BJP to primarily to divide the Muslim vote. Others dub it a Congress dummy to damage SP prospects.
The Peace Party is unperturbed. "Some parties did everything possible to link us with Pakistan. Now they have just changed tack," said its spokesperson MJ Khan.