The image was telling: Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad effusively welcoming the newly-inducted BJP member, Mukul Roy with flowers at the party headquarters. A former Trinamool Congress leader, accused in the Saradha and Narada scams, now being treated as a prize catch by no less a figure than the law minister. It was almost as if his entry into the ruling party had dramatically purified Roy of any corruption taint.

As the seasons change, there is a spring in the step of the Congress which suggests that a long and harsh summer in the political wilderness maybe ending. Rahul Gandhi is finally set to take over the party leadership, there is a buzz around the Congress’ aggressive social media strategy, new anti-BJP alliances are being cemented in poll-bound Gujarat, demonetisation and GST have become useful weapons to attack the government and open rebellion by senior BJP leaders like Yashwant Sinha has given further ammunition to the Opposition.

To understand vox populi on the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, India Today's Rajdeep Sardesai takes you through the 'Land of Awadh'.

We meet voters to understand will the alliance between Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Congress replicate the success of 2012? Or will Narendra Modi and the BJP will be able to build up on the momentum of the spectactular 2014 Lok Sabha elections? Or will Mayawati remain as the x-factor?

Five years is an eternity in Indian politics. As Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav beamed beatifically into the cameras last weekend, the mind was thrown back to 2012 when just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, Gandhi had delivered a solo performance, stressing that the Congress was in UP for the long haul, and would fight the region-based caste parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. “The Congress doesn’t look at a single election, we have a 10 year plan,” he had boldly claimed then.

We want a Congress Mukt Bharat,” thundered Narendra Modi in the 2014 general election campaign, a slogan echoed repeatedly BJP president, Amit Shah. The declared goal was not just to win an election, but to “eliminate” the Congress from the country’s national political map. Two years later, the Modi-Shah duo’s ambition is on track. If at the start of 2016, the Congress was ruling in nine states, it is now in charge in just seven states after its governments were dismissed in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Yesterday, I rang up Sharad Pawar to seek an interview on the Maharashtra verdict. Pawar spoke gently as ever, but refused the request "You called the NCP a cash and carry party on television during your election programme, why should I give you an interview?"

Political judgements based on opinion polls are hazardous at the best of times, but when there is a five-cornered fight like in Maharashtra, pollsters are often whistling in the dark. There were almost 50 constituencies in Maharashtra in 2009 where the margin was less than 5,000 votes, making any conclusive poll prediction a nightmare. And yet, let me stick my neck out on my home state: The BJP will be almost certainly the single-largest party and, in fact, should get a clear majority.

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