In what seems a continuation of the trend in the Lok Sabha polls, voters across Maharashtra, including in Mumbai, turned out in considerable numbers and exit polls predict the BJP will benefit big.
All the exit polls put the BJP close to, or crossing the magic figure of 145, for a majority in the 288-member Assembly. The Shiv Sena, which broke with the BJP 48 hours before the deadline for filing nominations, was placed a distant second, and the Congress and the NCP, which ruled the state for the 15 years, brought up the rear in all the exit polls.
The votes will be counted on Sunday and political circles expect small margins could decide the outcome in many seats, given the multi-cornered contest.
Wednesday’s turnout of 63.4% was the same as that in 2004. The highest was in 1995 (71.7%), when the Shiv Sena-BJP formed the first non-Congress government.
The “Modi magic” will have worked this time too if the exit polls prove correct. While ‘Today’s Chanakya’, which was spot-on in the Lok Sabha polls, predicted an absolute majority for the BJP with 151 seats (± 9), the exit polls by ABP News-AC Nielsen, Times Now-C-Voter and India Today-Cicero gave the BJP 124 to 144 seats.
It they turn out correct, the BJP could form the government on its own or with the help of some smaller parties and independents. The Shiv Sena, which challenged Modi directly, seems to be doing better than in 2009, but not well enough to emerge the largest party. The exit polls gave it 56 to 77 seats. The split in the Congress-NCP alliance could affect both the parties badly. Exit polls showed Congress could win 27 to 43 seats, while they gave the NCP 28 to 36 seats. Raj Thackeray’s MNS trailed with 3 to 12 seats.
“If the exit polls are right, then we can say that the Modi factor did work again,” said political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar. “It could also mean the people wanted to give the BJP a chance and they preferred the development agenda. It may be beginning of a single-party government,” he added.
Maharashtra registered 63.40% voting, up from 59.5% in the 2009 Assembly elections and 60.36 % in the Lok Sabha elections six months ago. Mumbai too did better with a 52.43% turnout, up from 46% in 2009 Assembly elections and 51.59% in the May Lok Sabha polls. The turnout was 54.11% in the island city and 50.75% in the suburbs.
Karveer constituency in Kolhapur district saw the highest turnout in the state of 84.37%. Ulhasnagar had the lowest of 36.32 %. Polling remained largely peaceful except for stray incidents. In Maoist-affected Gadchiroli, there were two incidents of firing on polling parties. One jawan was injured.
Despite the threat to villagers to boycott the polls by left wing extremists, troubled Gadchiroli saw an impressive 72% turnout, up from 68% in 2009.