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Maharashtra CM race hots up after fragmented election

While exit polls seem to take the BJP close to the chief minister’s chair, the final numbers and the party’s potential allies may well decide who gets to sit on it. Here's an analysis of the possibilities

With both exit polls and the party’s internal assessment predicting that the BJP is going to be the single largest party in the state with nearly 130 seats just 15 short of the majority mark the question doing the rounds in political circles was who the CM from the party could be.

BJP leaders Eknath Khadse, Devendra Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde
BJP leaders Eknath Khadse, Devendra Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde

The names that dominated discussions yesterday have been spoken about for quite some time, and with Union minister Nitin Gadkari indicating that he was happy at the Centre and would not like to make a return to state politics, the race for the coveted chief minister’s chair narrowed down to four key personalities. Here are the options before the party:

 

Devendra Fadnavis: Majority man
Highly placed sources in the party have told mid-day that Devendra Fadnavis, the state unit president, is leading the pack and is most likely to become the chief minister if the BJP attains a majority on its own or with the help of its four pre-poll allies - Ramdas Athawale’s RPI(A), Mahadeo Jankar’s Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, Raju Shetty’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Vinayak Mete’s Shiv Sangram.

Devendra Fadnavis
Devendra Fadnavis: Leader of the pack, most likely to become CM if BJP gets a majority on its own or with the help of pre-poll allies

Fadnavis has been touted as the CM candidate for a while and a slogan - Dilli mein Narendra, Maharashtra mein Devendra - was also coined for the purpose. His name gained even more currency when PM Narendra Modi lavished fulsome praise on Fadnavis, devoting nearly five minutes to him, while addressing a rally at Nagpur recently. What is also going in his favour is his clean image, good academic background and a ‘best parliamentarian’ award that he has won. “Fadnavis is way ahead of the others”, said a senior party leader.

The BJP, however, feels that he will be able to perform only if the party gets a majority on its own or with pre-poll allies. “If the party has to approach the Sena or other parties, Fadnavis will not be the BJP’s choice. He has come under attack from them since he is the party’s Brahmin face,” said the leader.

Sudhir Mungantiwar: NCP choice
The former Maharashtra unit chief of the party could be chosen to lead a coalition if the BJP finds itself 25-30 seats short of a majority and decides to approach the NCP for support. Leaders in the BJP and the NCP told mid-day that despite Sharad Pawar being opposed to it, the two parties could well end up coming together as post-poll allies because the move has seen support from a section of the NCP led by former deputy CM Ajit Pawar.

Sudhir Mungantiwar

Sudhir Mungantiwar: As a popular OBC face who has a good rapport with other parties, he may get the top post if the BJP allies with NCP

While Mungantiwar enjoys a good rapport with the NCP, being the OBC face of the BJP will also make it easier for him to add new partners and Independent MLAs - especially those who are contesting as Independents after rebelling from the Congress and NCP. “It would be easy for him to lead such a coalition as he is a senior legislator and has friends in other parties,” said a BJP insider.

Pankaja Munde: Sena charioteer
As the now-undisputed inheritor of the Gopinath Munde legacy, Pankaja Munde has managed to further strengthen it with the Sangharsh Yatra she embarked on before the state assembly polls. While her supporters in Marathwada have no doubt that she will become the CM if the BJP comes to power, senior leaders in the party have taken a more nuanced view of her chances.

Pankaja Munde
Pankaja Munde: Inheritor of the Gopinath Munde legacy, Shiv Sena may insist on her as CM if the BJP has to seek support from its former ally

With the Shiv Sena not putting up candidates against Pankaja from the Parli assembly seat or against her sister Dr Preetam Khade, who is contesting the Beed Lok Sabha by-election, as a mark of respect for Gopinath Munde, party leaders say the Sena may make her chief ministership a pre-requisite if the BJP has to take its former ally’s support. “Pankaja seems to command goodwill in the Sena because of her late father and Uddhav Thackeray may insist that she be in the driver’s seat of a BJP-Sena coalition in the event of the party having to approach the Sena for support,” said a BJP leader.

Eknath Khadse: Dark horse
As the senior-most contender for the post, Eknath Khadse could well be the one-size-fits-all chief minister. Unlike the other people in the race, he has vast experience as a legislator, a former minister and leader of opposition and the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, say his supporters.

Eknath Khadse
Eknath Khadse: As the seniormost leader in the race, he could be the one-size-fits-all CM. His chances are low, however, making him the dark horse

And, with Khadse single-handedly increasing the party base in Jalgaon and north Maharashtra, a region which has never had one of its own as the chief minister, even party leaders agree that he could be the dark horse. His ‘seniority’ could, however. also work against Khadse, with his health having been a topic of discussion in party circles for some time now.

Supriya Sule: The outsiders
In the days leading up to the polls, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has spoken about a non-BJP front and political observers say the shrewd politician may have deliberately left out Sena’s name.

In the event that the BJP is not able to stitch together a coalition, the state could end up getting an NCP-Sena government, given that the senior Pawar has always maintained a good rapport with the party. Uddhav Thackeray may also like to leave his stamp over the Sena’s first assembly elections under his leadership by springing a surprise in the form of the alliance.

Even the MNS is said to have clearly told its cadres to divert its vote bank to the Shiv Sena wherever it finds that the party candidate was not going to figure in the final race, indicating that Raj Thackeray could also be a part of, or support, such a government. Should such a coalition become a reality, the Shiv Sena may insist on Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule, as the CM candidate instead of Ajit Pawar, who has never made any bones of his ambitions for the post.

BJP’s hits & misses
The BJP is banking on a windfall of seats from Vidarbha region, where it is expecting around 40 seats out of the 62 assembly constituencies. But, leaders from the region have cautioned that things did not go as smooth as expected on polling day yesterday in certain districts such as Yavatmal, where Sena may play spoilsport.

Illustrations/Amit Bandre
Illustrations/Amit Bandre

Even Congress and NCP leaders are saying that they may benefit from the stiff fight between BJP and Shiv Sena candidates in the region. The BJP is likely to increase its tally in the Marathwada region, where 46 seats are at stake. It hopes to corner 12 to 15 seats in the region against the two it had got in the 2009 elections.

In Western Maharashtra, which has 70 seats including Ahmednagar district, the party hopes to notch up 20-22 seats, said a party leader. In North Maharashtra, however, Shiv Sena may spring a surprise, damaging BJP aspirations of winning a sizeable number of seats out of the 35, say political observers.

Poll bloopers

Food for thought
Voters were treated to sartorial and culinary offerings in Kandivali East. Late in the afternoon yesterday, at Baldongri, a slum pocket near the Western Express Highway, sources said the Shiv Sena candidate gave women saffron-coloured saris, and men, topis.

The candidate asked them to wear the clothes as a show of strength for the Sena and around 3 pm, the women in their saris and hat-clad men came out in groups. Taking umbrage to this, opposition party leaders asked them to change their clothes. Later, the women were given boxes filled with biryani, which naturally drew huge crowds.

Police had to be brought in to control the situation. A Congress party leader said that chicken and mutton biryani was being distributed in a predominantly vegetarian area.

At Dharavi and Mahim, several vehicles arrived and distributed food packets containing samosa and misal, which people relished sitting on the benches placed on footpaths. Voting also saw a lull between 2-4 pm.

Too hot to handle
At Villa Theresa High School, the polling centre was in the basement. Shockingly, there was no ramp to go down. Moreover, due to lack of proper ventilation, people broke into sweat minutes after entering the premises. Narayandas Bajaj (86), came with his wife Indira (76) and neighbour Rekha Iyer to vote.

Bajaj complained that there was no ramp in the centre. “At least the authorities should have appointed a person to assist and help us,” he said. Kshama Modi (76), another citizen, struggled to climb down the 20 steps. No ‘doli’ was available here as well.

Text: Shashank Rao, and Laxman Singh

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