In this Independence Day week, State Of The Nation brings you an exclusive opinion poll across 20 states with 18,000 respondents. The first big finding is on what the country thinks of its leaders. Is Manmohan Singh still a popular prime minister, have Rahul Gandhi's ratings improved as a national leader, who is the Opposition's most credible face and who is the most well liked chief minister?
Rahul Gandhi's sudden rise to the top of the preferred Prime Minister chart is a significant moment, perhaps a turning point, in our recent history. The CNN-IBN-CNBC-TV18 State of the Nation Poll in association with Forbes India conducted by CSDS records a sharp erosion in the popular acceptance enjoyed so far by Manmohan Singh.
Sonia Gandhi's ratings continue to fall steadily since she has opted out of the race. But the Congress General Secretary occupies much of the space vacated by these two. Thus the combined rating of Sonia-Manmohan-Rahul have not suffered.
The BJP, however, has steadily lost ground in this respect. LK Advani could occupy less than half the popular space vacated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
As of now, the next generation of BJP leadership adds up to just half of the popular space occuped by Advani in 2004. Ironically, just when the political class faces a crisis of credibility, the ruling party occupied the top three slots in the race for the top job.
Being named by 19 per cent of the people as the most suitable Prime Minister is in itself not a spectacular achievement for Rahul Gandhi. He is still far behind his mother's rating in 2004 and is just about halfway of Vajpayee's popularity at its peak.
Yet a major shift has taken place in the last two years: Rahul Gandhi's rating has jumped three-fold from a mere 6 per cent in 2009 and he has overtaken the PM and the Congress President for the first time.
Other indicators confirm this: two-thirds of the people interviewed had heard his name and knew who he was, his general image is that of a sincere and pro-poor leader, no other Congress leader poses any challenge to him and the proportion of those who want him to take the top position right away is as much as those who would want him to wait or never take this position.
Contrast this with the sudden and sharp erosion in the public image of Manmohan Singh. Though not a mass leader, his popularity was gradually rising from 2004 to 2009. This trend has been reversed for the first time.
His approval ratings as Prime Minister are more adverse than at any other point in the last seven years. The positive image of an honest man is now giving way to that of someone who stands helpless in the face of corruption. Most significantly, those who want him to continue as PM are outnumbered by those who want him replaced.
Yet this loss of the credibility of the Prime Minister does not seem to be helping any of the opposition leaders. For the first time in the last fifteen years of continuous tracking of the Prime Minister choices by the CSDS, no opposition leader records double digits.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has improved his position, and is way ahead of his nearest competitor Sushma Swaraj among the BJP voters, but with just 5 per cent of the people naming his as their first choice he has a long way to go.