The largest of four states going to polls after BJP’s return to power at the Centre, Maharashtra will be crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new party chief Amit Shah. Winning the assembly election would mean ratification of the Lok Sabha verdict and a major blow for the Congress. Retaining power could revitalise the Congress.
The hopes of both BJP and Congress however depend on what happens on the ground. Their regional allies — Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party — have been wet blankets of late.
The BJP expects the ‘Modi wave’ and anti-incumbency to end 15 years of Congress-NCP rule in Maharashtra. But it has locked horns with Sena over who would be the bigger player.
BJP insiders say Shah wants a party leader as chief minister, and as wants the seat-sharing arrangement with Sena revised. In the 2009 polls, Sena contested 171 of 288 seats leaving 117 for BJP.
Since the party with more MLAs can stake claim on the chief minister’s post, aspiring Sena president Uddhav Thackeray is not willing to concede seats.
The ruling Congress-NCP coalition is worse off.
Rattled by the Lok Sabha drubbing, the two parties lack confidence despite going on a sop spree. The latest was the reservation for Marathas and Muslims in government jobs.
The Congress is facing a leadership crisis too. But it continued with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, blamed for the electoral debacle. The party is also not sure if its alliance with NCP would last.
The NCP wants equal distribution of seats; it contested 114 to the Congress’ 174 in 2009. On Friday, the Congress said it would concede 10-15 seats and might go solo if NCP rejects the offer. The ball is now in NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s court.