The Congress has placed its bet on former state president and now legislator Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who lost to outgoing BJP MP Lalji Tandon in 2009 by about 38,000 votes. The ruling Samajwadi Party, which did well in the city in the 2012 assembly polls, has pitted Ashok Vajpayi while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has reposed faith in former urban development minister Nakul Dubey.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is yet to bare its cards but insiders say that Adarsh Shastri, grandson of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, is likely to be fielded from this VIP constituency.
Vajpayee's name still invokes respect. But political pundits say the poor track record of Lalji Tandon was one reason why Rajnath Singh was brought in. The party is, however, worried that a sulking Lalji Tandon, who was number two in Rajnath Singh's state cabinet a decade back, could be a stumbling block to the BJP president.
The BJP knows that the margin of victory in Lucknow has been thinning. From Vajpayee's huge victory margins, Lalji Tandon scraped through by just 38,000 votes.
"With the SP (Samajwadi Party) doing surprisingly well in the urban areas of Lucknow, we were not in a position to take a risk. Rajnath Singh is the perfect choice to turn the tide in our favour again," a BJP leader told IANS.
The Samajwadi Party's Ashok Vajpayi is widely seen as a sobre, down to earth and accessible person. But he may not find it easy to take on the political heavyweights.Rita Bahuguna Joshi, daughter of former UP chief minister and Congress stalwart Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, is known to be a fighter and has a good image among minorities and women in Lucknow. She refuses to see Rajnath Singh as a challenge and is confident of trouncing him.
"Rajnathji is an outsider. Remove the 'national BJP president' tag from his name and he is no one," she says. "All the major work done in Lucknow is on central government funds, be it the city buses, the sewer system or roads," Joshi told IANS.
"Lucknow is a city of learned people. They prefer development over communal politics," she added.
But Rajnath Singh, who won from Ghaziabad in 2009, told IANS that he felt at home in Lucknow.
Rhetoric on development and the "Modi wave" apart, all major players concede that politics in Lucknow was still very much about castes.Lucknow has some 450,000 Muslims, 350,000 Brahmins, 150,000 Vaishyas, 125,000 Kayasths, 100,000 each Yadavs and Dalits, 60,000 Thakurs and a sizeable presence of people from Uttarakhand (175,000 votes).
While the Muslims are likely to opt between the Congress and the SP, some Shias may lean towards the BJP. Dalits are expected to stick to the BSP.
AAP, some say, could take away a chunk of urban votes.