BSP chief Mayawati has never been known in Uttar Pradesh for political niceties. Yet she caught many by surprise when she ushered into the party known crime don-turned-politician Mukhtaar Ansaari.
For the 61-year-old four-time Chief Minister of India's most populous state, admitting the Ansari brothers into her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was her way of "course correction for people gone astray".
She argued there were "bigger goons" in other parties.
Serious questions are now being raised on the seriousness of her promise to ensure the return of law and order to the state if the BSP is voted to power in the assembly elections.
Notwithstanding the caste politics she pursues, the Dalit leader has been successful in creating a picture of a tough task master for herself who does not compromise on law and order.
Memories of her getting an absconding party lawmaker arrested from her own house to the by now dreaded law and order meetings she held during her tenure where senior officials would get a dressing down and others suspended, Mayawati's move to rope in the Ansaris to ensure a good faring in a dozen seats where Mukhtaar's writ runs large has stunned her supporters, mainly in the urban areas.
Madonna Xavier, a teacher at a prominent city school, is one such disgruntled fan. The 28-year-old confesses to being an admirer of the BSP chief as she recounts how bus rides in Lucknow were safe during her 2007-12 stint as Chief Minister.
The latest development seems to have cut her deep. "Not done," she mumbled.
There are many others who were looking up to the BSP, primarily for its good track record in maintaining law and order. The image has suddenly lost meaning for millions of aspiring middle-class and communities other than the traditional captive vote bank of Dalits that sticks with Mayawati.
"The decision appears ill-advised," said a political analyst. Some feel she is desperate to get minority votes that the Ansaris seem to have in abundance in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chowdhary is quick to take on Mayawati.
"She has been positioning herself as a saviour of the oppressed and the nemesis of criminals. By inducting Mukhtaar, she has exposed her real self," he said.
Congress leader Krishnakant Pandey added: "How shamelessly she has embraced the mafia."
BJP Secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak sees the development as a godsend. "On criminals, the BSP has been exposed." Ansari has 44 cases against him, ranging from dacoity, murder, extortion, kidnapping, and attempt to murder.
An incumbent lawmaker, he is in jail now. His Quami Ekta Dal (QED) has merged with the BSP. He was earlier taken by the Samajwadi Party but later booted out by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Mayawati is unfazed: "People like (BJP President) Amit Shah have no business questioning our decisions. The world knows the antecedents of the BJP President and how he escaped the long arm of law," she said.
A BSP leader who did not want to be named regretted that Ansari's entry might earn a few seats in districts like Mau, Azamgarh, Ballia and Ghazipur but was a huge blow in the battle of public perception.