Mumbai, which saw a record high voter turnout of 55.28% for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, waits with bated breath to for the results due on Thursday.
But does the high turnout mean anti-incumbency votes and a tilt in favour of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or will its bickering alliance partner Shiv Sena benefit from a polarised mandate ? There’s a third question too: are the silent votes in favour of opposition Congress?
Exit polls predict it will be a close contest between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena, which has been ruling the civic body for the past 25 years, leading by a slight margin.
The BJP and the Sena did not fight the elections this year in alliance.
The India Today-Axis exit poll survey released on Tuesday evening indicated a close contest. The Sena was predicted to get 86 to 92 seats and BJP, which successfully took over the space of the opposition after the allies snapped ties this year, was a close second with 80 to 88 seats. The Congress would be a distant third with 30 to 34 seats, the poll said.
Marathi news channel Zee 24 Taas predicted 90-96 seats for the Sena, 78-82 to the BJP and 27-30 for the Congress.
Both the polls say the fight was between Sena and BJP. The Congress could be a distant third and Raj Thackeray’s MNS is reduced to a single digit.
If the exit poll predictions are to be believed, it would mean the Sena had consolidated its Marathi support base, almost ending MNS’ influence on Marathi voters in the city. It is likely the Sena would have benefited from the polarised contest with the BJP.
Yet, the biggest beneficiary could be the BJP. Its strength in BMC could go up from 31 to around 80 seats. The BJP can pose a serious challenge to replace the Sena as largest party in Mumbai’s future.
The exit polls also mean the two parties will have to come together post poll since no party would get a clear majority. Such a verdict would mean rounds of tough negotiations before they arrive at a power-sharing formula.
The BJP may not settle for less than half the share of power though the Sena is not keen to concede. The two parties can still manage to stay together since the BJP needs the Sena to stay in power in the state.
Of course, it will be altogether different story if the Sena or even the BJP cross 90 and manage to win majority of 114 with the help of small parties and Independents.
In such a scenario, relations between the alliance partners can turn more bitter and become a thorny issue for Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
There were 2,275 candidates in 227 municipal wards in the fray and the vote was expected to be a referendum on the BJP-led Fadnavis government. With all four main parties striking out on their own, each was looking at these elections with an eye on the 2019 assembly polls.