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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 11:00 GMT
Key regional leaders
India's political system houses a plethora of political parties and personalities outside of the alliances around the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress.

Click on the links below to read about two of the most important figures, rivals for power in India's politically most important state, Uttar Pradesh.

MULAYAM SINGH YADAV

Mulayam Singh Yadav

The wrestler-turned-politician Mulayam Singh Yadav is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Mr Yadav heads the lower caste Samajwadi Party and belongs to the backward caste known as the Yadavs.

But many would say that the Yadavs are not backward at all.

They have been the biggest beneficiaries of a government policy of positive discrimination for the lower castes, which was implemented during the late 1980s.

For that reason, many sociologists like to call them an intermediate caste, rather then backwards.

In an earlier spell in power in the late 1980s, Mr Yadav took a strict stand against the campaign by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to build a Hindu temple at the disputed Ayodhya religious site.

His tough stance against the Hindu hardliners pleased a lot of Muslims. That explains his considerable support among Uttar Pradesh's vast Muslim population.

His critics have derided him as the chief minister of Yadavs and Muslims, rather than the chief minister of the people of Uttar Pradesh.

When he became chief minister of India's most politically sensitive state, he made his council of ministers the biggest ever in Indian history. His cabinet had 98 ministers.

Mr Yadav has been trying to push through economic reforms in Uttar Pradesh but is faced with huge problems.

The state is largely bankrupt state and has no money to pay the salaries of its employees.

Because he enjoys such support among the backward castes and Muslims such a huge state, Mr Yadav will continue to play an important role in supporting or building alliances at the federal level.

MAYAWATI

Mayawati

Mayawati Kumari is an icon for millions of India's Dalits, or "untouchables" as they used to be known.

Normally called simply Mayawati, she was born into the low-caste Hindu Jatav, or Chamar, community.

Hoping to become a district magistrate, she studied law and worked as a teacher before embarking on her political career.

Her mentor, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) President Kanshi Ram, was keen to pass on his political mantle to her.

He is believed to have told his protege she was destined to become a queen who would control the fate of many district magistrates rather than be one of them.

In 1995, Mayawati took over in Uttar Pradesh as the first low-caste, or Dalit, chief minister to head any of India's state governments.

At the age of 39, the unmarried Mayawati was also the youngest politician to assume the chief minister's office in Uttar Pradesh.

It was a remarkable achievement, even though her first government did not last more than four months.

"Behenji" (sister), as she is endearingly called by millions of her supporters, returned as chief minister two years later at the head of a coalition government, this time for six months.

She has now served three short stints as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

She has now toned down her anti-upper-caste rhetoric to broaden her support base, reaching out now to the upper-castes and to Muslims.

Her unconventional approach to politics has often raised eyebrows. She has also recently faced corruption allegations.

But she will continue to be an influential figure while she has such a grip on the lower caste votes in Uttar Pradesh.




India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

BJP ALLIANCE

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee Atal Behari Vajpayee
India's charismatic coalition builder

CONGRESS ALLIANCE

File photo of Sonia Gandhi, September 2008 Sonia Gandhi
The enigmatic Italian-born Congress leader

OUTSIDE THE COALITIONS


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