Shiv Sena eyes powerful role, Congress-NCP hopeful of survival
While BJP seeks to create history, Sena wants to strengthen position; Congress battles for relevance, NCP for survival
Will Maharashtra prefer 'Shatpratishat Bhajapa (absolute BJP)' or deliver a fractured mandate today? Five years after installing its first ever and full-term chief minister, the BJP has been eyeing the magic mark that will make it a formidable presence in the state.
Ally Shiv Sena, which stabilised the BJP's minority government, expects a number that will make it powerful in the alliance so it can take what it wants from the BJP. On other hand, a rebel-infested field has held out a glimmer of hope for the Congress-NCP alliance in general and especially for the latter, with Sharad Pawar's party battling for survival and pride.
In case the voter sends the state back to the 1995-2014 era of hung assemblies, the BJP strategists, especially Devendra Fadnavis who threw his weight behind a pre-poll pact, will be proven right. Which is not a very unlikely scenario, considering that the BJP fell short of a simple majority in 2014 despite a strong Modi wave. Five years on, despite being in an alliance, it is quite clear that the BJP's sole objective is to leap ahead of the Sena and others.
Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray (right) with Devendra Fadnavis. For the Sena, the polls should be a new beginning after being tricked by its alliance partner, BJP, in seat-sharing. File pic
While the alliance prevented the juicy prospect of another BJP-Sena direct fight, the campaigning phase made it clear that the ruling allies are still locked in a game of oneupmanship, albeit covertly, even as Pawar has thrown in all his might to keep the NCP relevant. With these factors in mind, it would be interesting to see if Maharashtra turns up in large numbers like it did during the general election in May.
While the BJP campaign, led by PM Modi, party president Amit Shah and Fadnavis, was a mix of nationalism, development, and Opposition bashing, the Congress and NCP leadership wooed voters with a broader, Lok Sabha-stlye campaign. The NCP added bite, painting the BJP as a villain of vendetta politics for the Enforcement Directorate's actions against Pawar, 80. The ailing Maratha satrap found the energy to lead the campaign, seeking sympathy and hoping to restore the 20-year-old party's pride. A fragmented Congress, with its state leaders confined to their respective constituencies, did showcase Rahul Gandhi and ex-PM Manmohan Singh, but its campaign never really took off, with Pawar remaining the face of the opposition.
For Shiv Sena, 2019 should be a new beginning after being tricked by its partner in seat-sharing, especially being deprived of its urban strongholds in major cities. Its first family has made its electoral debut with Aaditya Thackeray in Worli. He is assured of getting a big role in the government, and the youth leader should be keeping the Sena flock together. More power will vest in him if the Sena gets most of its 124 candidates elected vis-à-vis the BJP's 164.
Among others, Prakash Ambedkar's VBA fielded 235 candidates, including a dew strong ones, despite criticism that the party is a BJP agent. AIMIM's 44 candidates and the BSP's 262 will split votes in crowded contests. Raj Thackeray's 105 candidates aren't considered as formidable as they were in 2009, when the party had 13 MLAs. It should, nonetheless, dent the Sena in a couple of Mumbai constituencies.
After making inroads in Western Maharashtra in 2014, where BJP's strong hope in Vidarbha got it 44 seats, the BJP kept consolidating its position by first winning local self-governments and later inducting NCP and Congress rebels. More than two dozen sitting MLAs were dropped to accommodate these faces to boost the BJP's electoral prospects at the risk of upsetting equations in certain constituencies. Victory for the new entrants, mostly sitting MLAs, should compensate the BJP for losses elsewhere. In all, BJP leaders predict 135 to 144 seats for the party and don't expect the Sena to cross 70. On the other hand, Congress and NCP are confident of, at best, a fractured mandate.
Total no. of eligible voters in the state
Total no. of candidates across 288 constituencies
Candidates with criminal records
Source: Association of Democratic Reforms
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