How Modi retrieves the situation and how he enlists new allies in the next two years will show if the BJP is fighting fit, report Sunil Gatade and Venkatesh Kesari.
The next Lok Sabha polls may be a bit far away, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attempt to be third time lucky has many ifs and buts and three crucial states would make or mar his chances of a hattrick in 2024.
With a total of 168 seats, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar hold the key for anyone to emerge the winner and the last two Parliamentary polls showed that the 150 plus tally of the BJP and its allies there had done wonders for Modi.
As the majority mark in the 543-member Lok Sabha is 272, the three states have ensured that Modi remains more than comfortable as Leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party.
It is so much so that Modi and his Man Friday Amit Shah could call the shots for the past seven years.
Politics being a dynamic game, change is the only constant.
In Uttar Pradesh, which will have assembly polls in the next eight to nine months, the BJP has suddenly become uncomfortable.
Whatever happens in UP will have its bearing on the next Lok Sabha polls.
It is not said without reason that the road to New Delhi goes via Lucknow.
A sort of cold war between Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been simmering for more than a month and things have not normalised despite declarations that Yogi would continue to be chief minister.
Last month, there was an attempt to remove Yogi as chief minister and it has badly boomeranged.
It was Modi-Shah who had made the saffron-clad Mahant from Gorakhpur as chief minister in 2017 causing surprise even in BJP circles.
At that time, the names of Manoj Sinha, currently the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir, and that of Kailash Chandra Maurya, who is now one of UP's two deputy chief ministers, were doing the rounds.
How far the BJP is able to set its house in order in UP in the next few months would determine how unitedly it would fight the polls for the 403 assembly seats out of which it had won 325 in 2017.
Yogi has also emerged as the poster boy of Hindutva and is an ambitious leader who does not like to play second fiddle.
The handling of Covid, especially the second wave, is an albatross around the neck of the BJP notwithstanding claims that the Yogi government has been a 'damdar' dispensation.
Former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is raring for a fight and is banking on the votes of the Yadavs and the Muslims.
No political pundit needs to say that it will be a different cup of tea for Modi in 2024 if the BJP fails to do creditably in the UP assembly polls.
Bihar is on a boil politically. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United is insisting on representation in the Union Cabinet as per the share of its members in Parliament.
His party apparently carried out a split in Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti leaving the young leader who used to project himself as 'Modi's Hanuman' high and dry.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal's Tejaswi Yadav is showing political maturity by extending an olive branch to the beleaguered Chirag who is stunned by the quick political developments soon after his father Ram Vilas Paswan's death.
It is no secret that the senior Paswan had never accepted Nitish as his leader and the son is following in his father's footsteps.
Besides, Nitish is more than miffed with the BJP for using Chirag to weaken the JD-U in last year's assembly elections and is just waiting for a suitable opportunity to strike back.
It would be no wonder if he thinks differently by the next Lok Sabha polls if the BJP fails to mollify him by then.
In Maharashtra, the formation of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government is the direct result of the BJP's growing clout in the state and its aggressive style of functioning much to the detriment of friends and foes alike.
It saw the Shiv Sena parting ways with its oldest Hindutva ally in 2019.
The BJP has been unable to destabilise the Uddhav Thackerra-led government in the last one- and-a-half years despite several claims, controversies as also cases launched by central investigative agencies.
In fact, anti-BJPism has become the glue that has brought the disparate Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress together.
The BJP's failure to win the Satara Lok Sabha by-election despite fielding heavyweight rebel NCP leader Udayanraje Bhosale has helped the ruling coalition.
In Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP contested in alliance with other parties, the National Democratic Alliance received more than 50% vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In Bihar, the BJP won 23.6% votes, the Janata Dal-United won 21.8% and the Lok Janshakti Party got 7.9% -- a total of 53.3% vote share.
In Maharashtra, the BJP won 27.6% votes and the Shiv Sena won 23.2%.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP's vote share was 49.6%, and was possibly lifted beyond the halfway mark with two seats from the Apna Dal (Soneylal).
The Election Commission did not list the Apna Dal (Soneylal)'s vote share and listed it among 'Others'.
In UP, the BJP and allies won 63 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats, in Bihar 39 out of 40 seats and in Maharashtra 41 out of 48 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls.
In 2014, when Modi led the BJP for the first time to a majority in the Lok Sabha, the three states had made almost equal or even more contributions to his victory.
Despite the fact that no two elections are similar, the three states remained key for a victory of the Modi-led BJP since 2014 at a time when states in the South barring Karnataka had not paid much heed to the saffron wave.
While a desire for change in the wake of UPA-II governance had helped Modi in 2014, the prime minister had pulled off almost the impossible in 2019 on the back of the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent Balakot airstrikes across the border.
The BJP's defeat in the Bengal assembly election in spite of a high pitched campaign and the growing controversy over the handling of the pandemic has put the ruling party on the backfoot.
How Modi retrieves the situation and how he enlists new allies in the next two years would show whether the ruling party is fighting fit.
As regards the three states, it is but natural that the BJP will be in a tight spot in UP and Bihar if Yogi and Nitish remain angry.
No political pundit is needed to predict that the BJP's space will contract if the MVA coalition in Maharashtra remains alive and kicking till the next Lok Sabha polls.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com