A day after polling, the major parties began internal assessments of their performance and brainstorming on the various scenarios possible, when the votes are counted on Sunday.
Buoyed by exit polls that have put it well ahead, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday ruled out a post-poll alliance with any other party. The BJP’s own assessment is it will win 135 to 165 of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly, elections to which were held on October 15.
Reports from the Shiv Sena camp indicated party chief Uddhav Thackeray was putting up a brave front in the face of the exit polls that placed the party a distant second behind the BJP. “Shiv Sena will have their best performance and form the government. We will easily cross 100 considering the feedback we are getting throughout the state. Uddhavji is pretty upbeat and is sure of forming the government and leading as chief minister,” a senior Sena leader told HT.
The Congress and the NCP have virtually conceded defeat, with neither party expecting to touch even 50 seats. The state Congress unit, according to sources, believes “anything above 30 seats is a bonus” for the party. The NCP expects between 40 and 50.
In sharp contrast was the mood in the BJP. “Our surveys say we are going to get a majority. Even if we do not win more than 135, we will still be the single largest party. Everything will fall in place to reach the magic figure of 145,” said senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse, indicating smaller parties and independents could be roped in.
The BJP has commissioned three more internal surveys by reputable agencies. It expects these reports on Friday morning before national president Amit Shah holds a review meeting in the city. Shah, himself, has reportedly predicted 165 seats for the BJP. The State BJP’s assessment is the party will win 135-145 seats.
There was speculation that it would mend fences with the Shiv Sena if the BJP fell short of a majority on its own. There was also speculation that the BJP would prefer to turn to the NCP or the MNS if it needed 25-30 seats. A tweet by senior NCP leader Praful Patel that his party would play a crucial role in the formation of the next government fanned such speculation further.
The Opposition leader in the council, Vinod Tawde, said the BJP would not tie up with the NCP. “Whatever the poll results, there is no question of us joining hands with the NCP,” he said.
However, the BJP is not averse to reuniting with the Sena. “Despite the Sena using very bad words against our senior leaders, we have never said out former ally is our enemy. It is sad that the Sena made us its enemy number one even as we targeted a corrupt Congress-NCP government,” said Khadse. He said expressing regrets for whatever it did to the BJP was entirely in the Sena’s domain.
According to the party’s assessment, the BJP would gain most in Vidarbha, north and western Maharashtra, and Marathwada. However, it may find it difficult in Mumbai, Thane and Konkan. It expects about 15 out of 36 seats in Mumbai. “Analysing Mumbai is a bit difficult because of the linguistic divide and confusing voting patterns,” said Tawde.
In Congress circles, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s controversial interview to The Telegraph on the eve of the polls in which he was quoted as admitting that his predecessors as chief minister, Shushilkumar Shinde, the late Vilas Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan, were corrupt, has raised hackles. The party leadership has asked him to apologise. Chavan on Thursday said, “I had no intention of defaming anyone. The news was made from an informal chat I had with the reporter post the interview.”
Congress sources said Chavan would have to own responsibility for the Congress’ performance. He had been given a “free hand” in ticket distribution and campaigning as well. In fact, the advertisement campaigns in Maharashtra centered around Chavan alone.
“Any adverse outcome will make him susceptible to attacks by detractors. In the end, the buck stops at his table,” a senior central functionary said. “He will have to take the blame….There is no escape route.”
(With inputs from Aurangzeb Naqshbandi in New Delhi)