A quick glance around the Indian electoral horizon, and there is not a single party in the pink of health. All are struggling to convince the people for their vote but even the ruling party that claims invincibility is finding the going tough by all accounts. Corruption, factionalism, rivalries, non-performance seem to plague all the political parties with the Bharatiya Janata Party of course using the state machinery to further bludgeon the opposition and clear the coast for itself. At least so it hopes.

Recent actions by the BJP do not smack of confidence. In fact quite the contrary. The arrest of a sitting chief minister Arvind Kejriwal after some of his key personnel were taken to jail, and the sealing of Aam Aadmi Party offices seems to be prompted by worry over the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. At least that seems to be the perception gaining ground, and as the BJP should know better than most other political parties, it is perception and not necessarily facts that influence the voters on the ground. Adding to this perception is the decision to freeze the official bank accounts of the Congress party and thereby deprive it of monies to organise its campaign and the election. While it is true that Kejriwal seems to have drawn more sympathy than the Congress party where the lay person is concerned, the action does add to the pervasive perception.

The Congress, on the other hand, seems to have improved its image over the past one year with Rahul Gandhi’s two yatra’s effectively changing the people's perception of him as a fumbling wannabe leader to a confident, honest and courageous man. Whether this will help you match or overcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma on the ground remains a huge ‘if’ but then the Modi image was also rooted in discipline and clean politics, where the BJP has given it a bit of a dent. How much only the voters will be able to say unless, and again as the increasing perception insists, the EVM machines make their presence felt.

The INDIA bloc had a bit of a setback after back to back incidents. One the decision by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to leave the alliance and go back to the BJP. This came as a jolt as it had the potential to unhinge the opposition alliance, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Tejaswi Yadav cemented the perception through an aggressive campaign that seems to have reduced Nitish Kumar to a political cypher and boosted the prospects of the RJD-Congress-Left alliance in Bihar.

This was followed by a sulking and visibly angry Mamata Banerjee, who effectively pulled out of the larger alliance by deciding to contest the Lok Sabha polls alone. The Trinamool Congress has moved away from the Congress party for these elections, a decision that has not helped cement the image of the INDIA bloc as it were. However, to match this old BJP ally Naveen Patnaik has developed teeth and refused to buckle to the seat adjustment requirements of the BJP. He decided to contest the Orissa polls on his own. The BJP said the decision to go solo was its own. Again the people can decide who broke with whom but given the alliance of the past they will all cut into each other's votes in the state, with the Congress also in the field despite a weak and inefficient organisation.

But just as it seemed to be heading downhill the remaining parties in the INDIA bloc got together amidst a show of strength in Maharashtra to mark the end of Rahul Gandhi’s yatra. The crowds and the enthusiasm created a favourable perception and evened the odds created by Kumar’s exit, and Mamata Banerjee’s sulks.

But while the battle of perception continues, the facts do attack themselves to the vote as well. Perhaps not as well as politicians might hope, but issues like the corruption revealed by the electoral bonds scam does cut into the perception created by the inauguration of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. But to translate all this into votes is not easy unless the political parties have a whopping organisation at the ground level, and the ability to mop up the votes. Here the BJP is far ahead of others, although the regional parties like the TMC in West Bengal, DMK in Tamil Nadu, Left in Kerala, RJD in Bihar have mastered the poll booth management as well. The Congress party continues to shake on this very important ground, except perhaps in Karnataka where it has a shrewd and able leadership. The Samajwadi Party would have been in the above list of regional worthies but has been fractured in recent years. And the Aam Aadmi that had woven together a firm structure in Delhi has been literally bombarded by cases and raids and arrests.

There is a pattern to every election. After the polls are announced the run up is fraught with dissent and rivalries, as tickets are distributed and seats negotiated. Then finally the pictures clear and the campaign gathers momentum, with each candidate and political party diving in to firm up the perception that they hope will influence the vote. Issues are stated, manifestos distributed, but at every step of the way the campaign adjusted to feed the perception. Sometimes there are big events like Pulwama that happen to create craters in a fairly even playing field, and thereby pull out all the stops to create a perception that subsumes the vote. And sometimes the people have their way, and vote as fairly and evenly as possible.

We can only wait and watch, clutching on to our vote, and hoping against hope that our perception will be backed by the truth and not the lie.