Some 10 crore people will vote to elect new governments in Maharashtra and Haryana on Wednesday, a major test as much of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal charisma as his party’s strategy to abandon long-standing allies in search of political majority in two key states.
A victory will not only reaffirm Modi’s appeal with voters but also silence detractors of his new party leadership, which was blamed for a string of defeats in assembly by-elections that tempered the euphoria of his Lok Sabha triumph.
For the Congress, a poor result will possibly stoke further murmurs against Rahul Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress.
Read:All you need to know about Maharashtra elections 2014
The vote will also test the mettle of some of the country’s most powerful regional parties such as the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in the western state as well as the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana.
Within a span of about two weeks, Modi addressed 27 public meetings in Maharashtra and 11 in Haryana, a rare staking of a prime minister’s personal prestige on a high-octane state campaign. He urged voters to hand the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a clear majority for better governance and faster development.
Read: In numbers: Maharashtra state elections 2014
Pre-poll surveys show that voters may be willing to heed that request, with the numbers putting the BJP slightly ahead in the race.
"The BJP is likely to get an absolute majority and in terms of number of seats it could be between 150 and 160, including 40 to 45 in Vidarbha region," said BJP leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari.
In comparison, the Congress campaign appeared to lack steam, with Congress vice-president Rahul and president Sonia Gandhi addressing a few meetings towards close of electioneering in the two states.
In Maharashtra, where some 9.33 crore people are eligible to vote, the BJP snapped its 25-year-old alliance with the Shiv Sena following differences over sharing of seats but also with hopes that Modi’s personal charisma will help it tap into growing anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP’s 15-year rule.
Read: Haryana polls will test political standing of major parties
The elections are the first for the Shiv Sena after the death of Bal Thackeray.
A pre-poll spat over seats also saw the curtains come down on the Congress-NCP alliance in the state, with political parties keeping their post-poll options open in a five-horse race.
Prominent candidates in the state include former Congress chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as well as former deputy CM Ajit Pawar and former ministers RR Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal of the NCP. For the BJP, state chief Devendra Fadnavis, Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde are in the fray.
In Haryana as well the BJP called off its partnership with the Haryana Janhit Congress. The state is expected to see a three-corner contest between the BJP, Congress and the INLD which saw its jailed leader Om Prakash Chautala campaigning out on bail on medical grounds.
Read: Haryana polls: Only 7% candidates have criminal background
The Congress is seeking a third term there.
The main contestants in the state include chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Randeep Surjewala of Congress, Chautala’s son Abhay, daughter-in-law Naina and grandson Dushyant (all INLD), former Union minister Venod Sharma and former MP Kuldeep Bishnoi and his elder brother and former deputy chief minister Chander Mohan.
The BJP has not named its chief ministerial candidate in either state.
Votes will be counted and results announced on Sunday.