The bugle has been sounded for the world`s biggest carnival of democracy, and while the whole of India is reverberating with the drumbeats of elections, its cadence can be best heard in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh.
With a whopping chunk of the Lok Sabha constituencies - 80 seats, the state of UP boasts of being the most politically significant state in the run-up to the General Elections. Hence, it`s hardly an enigma that the route leading to 7 Race Course Road crosses through the corridors of UP.
BJP`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi understands this. Not for nothing, he is contesting from the holy seat of Varanasi.
Though, it sounds a bit quirky, that for a man, who has been stressing on the “development plank” and meticulously avoiding any mention of Hindutva in his robust rally speeches, chose a seat like Varanasi to contest from.
Concentrated upon the development factor, Modi`s speeches have been laced with words like employment, infrastructure, electricity, etc and this was being seen as the stalwart BJP leader`s attempt at softening his and the party`s hard-line Hindutva image.
Even in Varanasi, Modi talked mainly about the holy town`s infrastructure and development, mentioning both the Hindus and the Muslims, seeking to project himself as a secular leader.
But Modi`s choice of Varanasi – where Lord Shiva is said to be omnipresent - has reignited the party`s tacit indication that it might not want to completely shed its saffron hues and lose its hardcore Hindu votes.
The holy bylanes of Benaras, which have been reverberating with Ustad Bismillah Khan`s shehnai, echod with chants of “har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi”, before the war cry was muted following objections from influential voices.
Even though the opinion polls have painted a bright picture for the BJP in the state, predicting the highest number of seats for the saffron party, Modi can`t ignore the resurgence of Mayawati`s Bahujan Samaj Party as one of the major options available to the fickle-minded UP voters.
Meanwhile, spicing up the politics of UP, is the new entrant Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Still counting on his spectacular show in Delhi assembly Elections, the former Delhi CM has decided to take the Narendra Modi challenge head on by contesting from Varanasi. Not to forget, the ruling Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Sing Yadav, who has chosen the Varanasi`s neighbouring hub of Muslim votes – Azamgarh – to field himself.
It can be said that of all the clashes, the one surrounding Varanasi, is going to be the mommy of all battles of General Elections 2014.
Varanasi is set to witness the most riveting electoral slugfest as the entire nation has its eyes stuck on the battle of Kashi.
Meanwhile, another AAP leader Kumar Vishwas has taken up the cudgels against the Gandhi scion of Congress. Challenging Rahul Gandhi and the so-called dynastic politics, Kumar has decided to contest from Amethi, which for the major part of history has been synonymous with the Congress party.
Also, UP is home to Congress high command Sonia Gandhi`s bastion – Rae Bareli.
But Congress` prospects in the state looks bleak with most of the opinion polls offering a meagre number of seats to the party.
Even though in the General Elections 2009, BJP had bagged 17.5% vote share with 10 seats in UP it was less than half of what the 21 seats Congress managed (with vote share of 18.25%).
But this is not 2009. And Narendra Modi as the party`s candidate, has probably been the best thing to happen to the BJP.
If opinion polls are anything to go by, there really is a Modi wave flourishing throughout the state.
However, the post-poll surveys give more points to the SP.
According to one of the pre-poll surveys, the BJP is set to bag 41-49 seats, while another survey predicts 35 seats for the BJP.
However, politics in UP is also governed by the complex and hardly decipherable link between the state`s demography and voting pattern.
UP is known for its complex vote bank arithmetic, and one never knows which ways the votes might swing.
Especially after the Muzaffarnagar riots, UP might see a significant change in the inclination of voters, resulting in Muslims and Jats` votes going separate ways.
A major chunk of UP`s demography, with 21% Dalit and 15% Muslim population, might present an obstacle to Modi as despite the Gujarat Chief Minister`s much publicised model of development, these two caste groups may not vote for the BJP.
The Dalits would most probably remain loyal to Mayawati, and the Muslims, in view of Samajwadi Party`s goof-up in Muzaffarnagar, might go with the elephant to present a fighting force against Modi.
On the other hand, the BJP is counting on Jat votes. The community with numbers in western UP has remained with Rashtiya Lok Dal (RLD) for long but may change sides in view of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
The RLD too got some add on power after Jaya Prada and Amar Singh joined the party and are now contesting the polls from Bijnore and Fatehpur Sikri respectively.
Hence, despite the much apparent Modi wave, the BJP hopefuls might have to battle the intricate vote bank equations in UP.
To clearly predict post-poll scenario in UP is a herculean task for every psephologist.
As the entire country is done with voting, the exit poll numbers that poured in on May 12 reaffirmed the pre-poll surveys, giving BJP the crown of fetching highest seats in Uttar Pradesh.
As per ABP News/AC Nielson survey`s, BJP is expected to get 46 seats and Congress is decimated to single digit number of 8 in the hindi heartland. Samajwadi Party and BSP are competing neck and neck with 12 and 13 seats respectively.
Another survey by Times Now/ORG predicts more than 52 seats for BJP, around 10 seats for Congress, 12 for SP and mere 6 seats in the account of BSP.
One thing to notice is that most of the pre-poll surveys saw Mayawati`s BSP faring better than Mulayam`s SP, courtesy the mishandling of Muzaffarnagar riots and and the controversy surrounding the Saifai festival.
However, despite exit polls predictions galore, we can only count on the ultimate result and only time will tell, whether the UP electorate will help Modi hit the magic number and accomplish Mission 272.
Hence, even before the elections had begun, a wait had already started – the wait for May 16 – the D-Day when the secret numbers trapped in EVMs would come out like a genie and declare if Modi`s charisma has worked wonders or not?