After a high-pitched electoral campaign by political parties over just two weeks, the ball is now in the court of 8.98 crore registered voters in Maharashtra. On Monday, it is they who will decide the fate of 3,237 candidates in the fray for the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections.
The elections will be a test of the alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, which was challenged by many mutinies from within. With the Opposition still in disarray after the Lok Sabha poll drubbing and weakened even more due to desertions of several leaders in the run-up to the upcoming polls, the state polls are expected to be a battle of supremacy between the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena.
The BJP’s populist polices over the last five years have helped it emerge as the most powerful political force in the state, causing apprehension in the Shiv Sena over being subverted by its larger political ally.
On the ground, this tension has led to Shiv Sena cadres rebelling against an alliance seen as not favouring the party in that particular constituency. Shiv Sena and BJP workers have been at war in several constituencies. BJP too has its share of rebels against Sena, or working against the BJP’s own candidates.
The BJP has promoted Devendra Fadnavis as its face in Maharashtra. The elections, however, also managed to showcase the power that BJP chief Amit Shah wields after four senior BJP leaders were denied tickets.
The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, has also taken a tectonic shift in its approach to politics by fielding Aaditya Thackeray in the election from Worli. This will be the first time that a Thackeray has contested elections since the Sena was formed in the 60s.
The elections will test the political acumen of Sharad Pawar again. With the Congress lacking a strong mass leader and battling infighting, the entire Opposition campaign has been led by the NCP patriarch. But Pawar’s own party has been hit the most by the exodus to the BJP and intra party turmoil. Another poll drubbing could end Pawar’s five-decade-old political career on a sour note.
Also on test will be Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, which managed to make inroads in many constituencies, and split opposition votes to the detriment of the Congress and NCP.
Though EC is eyeing higher turnout than the Lok Sabha election or the 2014 election, the rain which is lashing Maharashtra since Saturday is likely to play spoilsport. The India Metereological Department has forecast thunder and light rain throughout Monday. Election officials said voters should turn out carrying their rain gear along. “People should come out and vote in big numbers because it is a festival of democracy,” said Additional Chief Electoral Officer Dilip Shinde, adding that they were looking for an increase in voting percentage compared to last elections. Of the 96,661 polling centres the EC has declared 2,762 polling centres as ‘sensitive’.