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Saurabh Das, Associated Press
Bahujan Samaj Party leaders seek the blessing of party leader Mayawati, right, as she leaves after addressing an election rally at Ambedkarnagar, near Lucknow, India, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. India's biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, will be choosing its state assembly in elections starting next week. Mayawati, a former school teacher and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party who uses only one name, has risen to the upper rungs of India's political landscape by tapping into the enormous voting base of dalits, who are at the bottom of Hinduism's caste structure.

SITAPUR, India — For the past five years, one of India's most powerful and controversial politicians has ruled like a queen over the large state of Uttar Pradesh.

Now, the bottom-caste dalit leader is working to persuade voters to choose another term of her brand of communal politics in an election with broad implications for the nation as a whole.

A re-election victory for the chief minister in the seven-stage election starting Wednesday could turn her caste-based Bahujan Samaj Party from a regional oddity into a national force.

A strong showing by the Congress Party could invigorate India's national government. A poor Congress showing could cripple India's government for the last two years of its term.