Maharashtra faces a hung assembly

Maharashtra poll
Mumbai, Oct 19: The politically stable Maharashtra faced a hung assembly as the results of the 13th elections to the house trickled out Sunday afternoon.

The prime contender for power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, hovering at leads/victories in around 120 seats, was emerging as the single-largest party but falling far short of the crucial figure of 145 in the 288-member house.

Its former ally, the Shiv Sena, was smug with around 58 victories/lead and top party leaders dismissed outright any suggestions of a "Modi wave".

"There is no Modi wave...No," senior leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi said.

With a handicapped BJP, the Sena despite its small number was catapulted to the position of a "king maker", and also unequivocally made it clear who the "King" (next chief minister) would be.

"Whatever happens, the next chief minister would be Sena president Uddhav Thackeray," asserted party spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut.

The BJP remained optimistic. "All options are open to form the next government in Maharashtra. The party high command will take a decision in the matter after the results are out," BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said.

Realising the gravity of the situation, BJP ally Republican Party of India (A) spoke up, saying that in the present scenario, no government was possible without the support of Shiv Sena.

"It seems BJP is not getting a clear majority. Nothing can happen without Shiv Sena's support. Both BJP and Shiv Sena need to think about forming the government in the state," RPI (A) chief Ramdas Athawale told media persons here.

He also expressed regret over the BJP and Shiv Sena's decision to contest the elections independently. "If they had fought together, they would have secured absolute majority with around 225 seats together."

On the other hand, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party scored 43 and 44 leads/victories respectively - unexpected by all forecasts - but effectively arrested what was predicted as BJP's solo march to victory.

Despite a mega-high profile campaign led by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several factors prevented the BJP from coming close to even a simple majority in Maharashtra.

Prime among them were its decision to snap the 25-year long alliance with the Shiv Sena just three weeks before the elections and its rejection of all "alliance politics" in future.

The move conveyed the impression that the BJP was attempting to destroy or control strong regional forces like Shiv Sena, which has strode like a Colossus in Maharashtra since the past 48 years.

For another, the shrill anti-Maharashtra tone of the campaign by all BJP leaders was exploited to the hilt by all the major parties - Sena, Congress, NCP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

The reported plans of the BJP to reduce the economic importance of Mumbai by partially shifting or transferring major businesses out of the state also sounded alarm signals among the young voters, reflecting on their future employment prospects and related issues.

The BJP leaders also made it clear that they were in favour of a separate state of Vidarbha for more equitable development - a plan unanimously opposed by all other parties.

With the presence of Modi looming large everywhere, the state BJP did not have a "face" in the elections. In fact, there were too many "faces" vying for the coveted post of CM that sent confusing signals to the electorate.

Three parties - Sena, Congress and NCP - seemed to have derived some benefit of these shortcomings, especially as Maharashtra was being derided and compared to Modi's Gujarat, admittedly much smaller in terms of population, size and resources.

On this front, the MNS salvos against the BJP seemed to lack credibility, especially since its chief Raj Thackeray was an unabashed admirer of Modi before the May Lok Sabha elections.

Subsequently, after the Sena-BJP break-up, Raj also raised speculation about a possible post-poll rapprochement with his estranged cousin, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

These strategies seemed to have seriously backfired as the MNS was swinging with leads/victories in barely four seats, down from the 13 it held in the previous assembly.

The surprise factor among the winners was the handsome performance by the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which bagged three seats and was on the verge of bagging a fourth in the state.

In the midst of the ongoing counting process, the top BJP leadership was busy making friendly overtures to the Sena and opening backdoor negotiations with some other potential supporters, notably the NCP.

However, it became clear to the BJP that it would have to pay a heavy price to whoever chooses to support its endeavour to form the next BJP government in the state.


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