If the BJP is set to return to power in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and even Goa, it is not because of the party's performance or the quality of governance.
No. It is essentially Modi's popularity, observes Virendra Kapoor.
Going by the opinion polls by various television channels, the BJP is comfortably placed to retain power in UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur, three of the five states going to the polls.
In Goa too, it is set to emerge as the single largest party. Only in Punjab is the BJP doing poorly.
But then it had failed to strike deep roots in the state, all along playing second fiddle to the Akali Dal till the latter parted company on the issue of farm sector reforms.
Should the actual results approximate closely to the the opinion polls it would naturally come as a huge shot in Narendra Modi's arm.
Despite various negatives such as a rising consumer price-line, a corona-hit economy, lack of jobs, etc, a vote-of-confidence from the voters would strengthen the prime minister's grip on the country, dispelling an impression of weakness critics had rushed to imply when the farm reforms were rolled back.
That Modi continues to be by far the most popular leader, as the latest mood of the nation survey by a media group revealed, was not in doubt. The only question was the percentage of people endorsing his leadership.
Unsurprisingly, after slipping sharply at the height of the second corona wave at the beginning of 2022 the PM's popularity rating is back in the mid-60s.
The real significance of a 66 percent popular endorsement for the prime minister lies in the ratings of his nearest rivals.
Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, in that order, figure in the poll as his nearest rivals with ratings well below 20 percent.
Rahul Gandhi is the choice of only seven percent respondents for replacing Modi as per the same opinion poll.
There should be little doubt that if the ruling BJP is set to return to power in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and even Goa, it is not because of the party's performance or the quality of governance.
No. It is essentially Modi's popularity, which substantiated further by various welfare schemes, is carrying them through the latest popularity test.
Without Modi's charismatic pull, it would have been very hard for the incumbents to return to power.
Admittedly, Yogi Adityanath has grown his constituency in the last five years, expanding it far beyond the Gorakhpur region which serves as the seat of his religious math, and returned him to Lok Sabha five times.
Not only has his grip on his fellow Thakurs/Rajputs, who constitute eight percent of the population, solidified behind him in the identity-driven poll, but his take-no-prisoners firmness against criminals has earned him a large number of converts.
That would explain why in the above opinion poll he comes number two as the most popular BJP leader after Modi.
Notably, Amit Shah comes well behind Yogi.
The short point is that Yogi, unlike other BJP chief ministers in the poll-bound states, has developed his own support base, further bolstering votes polled in Modi's name.
It is relevant to note that in Uttarakhand despite changing its chief minister three times in as many months the BJP appears poised to retain power.
Clearly, who the CM is matters little, people are voting for Modi even in state elections.
Meanwhile, pundits may rue the seeming divorce of performance from election outcomes, with the voters failing to penalise incumbents for unkept poll promises, but the fact remains that the alternative inspires little trust, the hardened voter having experienced first-hand the misrule and corruption of previous governments.
Elections increasingly are now won or lost as much on caste and community vote-banks as on the charismatic appeal of leaders.
Both factors favour the BJP, most likely to see it well past the winning post on March 10, when the votes in the five states are to be counted.
Mayawati can spring a surprise in UP
Mayawati, the BSP supremo, has surprised political observers in the ongoing poll in UP by maintaining a low profile.
Not much is seen or heard of her while the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party dominate the poll scene in the media.
In fact, this has led some observers to conclude that it is a straight fight between the BJP and the SP while the BSP is virtually non-existent in this poll.
However those with a nose to the ground counter the impression of an inactive Mayawati, arguing that she is very much in the contest.
It is pointed out that it has never been her style to woo the media, once condemned by her as 'Manuwadi'.
And generally the media has returned the compliment by either ignoring her or tainting her as corrupt.
Merely because she has not held big rallies, and refrained from marking her recent birthday, as she normally did, with a big bash with tens of thousands gathering her to greet her, she cannot be said to have given up on the UP poll.
After all, UP remains her 'karam-bhoomi', the strongest state for the BSP while the appeal of the party in other Hindi heartland states has always been thinly spread.
Without retaining control over the substantial UP vote-bank, Mayawati will be a spent force, making her irrelevant in the state and national politics.
The current and previous regimes at the Centre have always sought to keep her in good humour, also due to the crucial BSP votes in the Rajya Sabha.
That Mayawati duly released the first list of 53 candidates for the first phase was barely noticed by the media.
Admittedly, the BSP has a rather weak social media cell, in part a reflection of its support base of Jatavs.
The party is rectifying the lag. In sharp contrast, Akhilesh Yadav was quick to learn the importance of digital meda and has sought to counter the BJP's far superior propaganda machine.
The perception created in the media that he alone is the challenger against Yogi Adityanath stemmed from a couple of well-attended public rallies and a sharp presence on the social media, both of which Mayawati has shunned thus far in this poll.
Yet, her 18-20 percent solid vote is said to be intact.
Given that she has as usual fielded a significant number of upper caste Hindus and Muslims, the latter voting unhesitatingly for fellow Muslims contesting on the BSP symbol, it may be wrong to write off Mayawati.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com