Lucknow, June 27 : Politics is a game of shifting sands and loyalties and it is already in full play in Uttar Pradesh even though assembly elections are still a few months away.
The state seems to be heading for a four-cornered contest, with caste playing a dominant role.
Friends will turn foes and foes will turn friends, but the play will still remain largely between four players.
The ruling BJP, confident of its return to power, is working towards consolidating its vote base, mainly among Hindus, and setting its own house in order.
The state government has made a beginning by announcing that it will withdraw all cases lodged against its party workers.
"We are a disciplined party and we have worked at the grassroot level.
We will deal with our problems like a family and face elections with the same spirit and unity," said party vice president Vijay Bahadur Pathak.
The BJP has already drawn up a road map to overcome the anti-incumbency factor that had swelled during the second wave of the pandemic.
The party is focusing on assuaging the feelings of Brahmins and OBCs who are reportedly upset with the party.
Recent entrants like Jitin Prasada have been tasked with bringing Brahmins back into the party fold.
Efforts have already been initiated to soothe ruffled feathers between Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya who is the party's OBC face.
While the BJP is in no mood to forge new alliances, it is definitely keen to retain allies like Apna Dal and repair the damage done with the exit of Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP).
Another major player in the 2022 elections will be the Samajwadi Party that has already positioned itself as a viable alternative to the ruling BJP.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) is in the process of holding negotiations with smaller parties and if sources are to be believed, party supremo Akhilesh Yadav will forge alliances with parties that represent non-Yadav caste groups.
A senior SP leader said: "The swelling crowds in front of our state headquarters is a clear indication of the people's mood.
The panchayat elections have proved that SP is set to return to power next year."
Akhilesh Yadav, meanwhile, has ruled out any truck with parties like the BSP and the Congress.
"Our experience with Congress in 2017 and the BSP in 2019 has been disappointing and we are going it alone this time," said Akhilesh.
Sources said that Akhilesh is trying to iron out differences with his estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav so that there is no division in the Yadav votes.
The BSP, on the other hand, is banking fully on its Dalit vote base that had gone down to 19 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Party leaders admit that it is Mayawati's charisma alone that can lift the party from the realms of despair and work a miracle.
The majority of the leaders and legislators in the BSP have either left the party or have been shown the door.
Besides, Mayawati's own wavering posture towards the BJP governments in Delhi and Lucknow have put a question mark on her.
"We still do not know whether we have to adopt an anti-BJP posture or remain positive," said a party functionary.
The BSP will contest on its own -- it wants no allies and no party wants it as its ally.
The Congress, meanwhile, will be another loner in the upcoming elections.
Faced with bitter infighting in its ranks, the party has sunk to an all time low.
The exodus from the party is continuing and the exit of former MPs like Annu Tandon and Jitin Prasada have only added to its woes.
Party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has been active only on Twitter and Facebook, is now expected to come to Lucknow next month and camp there for a few days.
The party organisation is non-existent in the state and the Congress does not have leaders left in the districts.
With parties like the SP and the BSP refusing to ally with the Congress and even the smaller outfits staying away, it remains to be seen how the party retains its strength of seven legislators in the next assembly.
The fourth and the most important player that will, perhaps, play the role of king maker in the event of a hung house after the 2022 elections, is actually a cluster of smaller parties, having a limited area of influence geographically.
This group includes the Aam Aadmi Party, AIMIM, SBSP, Jan Adhikar Manch and some others.
The AAP is targeting the middle-class voters that are feeling 'cheated' by the BJP while AIMIM is focusing on minority voters.
The SBSP enjoys influence over Rajbhar votes and the Jan Adhikar Manch, led by former BSP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, holds sway over Maurya and Kushwaha votes.
The Nishad Party that is trying to drive a bargain with the BJP and is seeking the deputy chief minister's post, may also end up with this conglomerate if the deal does not work out.
A senior political analyst said: "Parties in this group are most likely to shift loyalties in the post poll scenario and may even end up as a king maker, in case the elections throw up a hung assembly.
They are the ones to watch out for this time if the mandate is fractured."