Right from the time the poll schedule was announced for the state of Maharashtra, the debate has been not about who would romp home safely but by what margin. The BJP, which replaced its long-time and troublesome ally Shiv Sena as the bigger partner in the alliance in 2014, has been on the ascendance ever since.
This could be gauged from the confidence with which the BJP unilaterally announced that it would contest 164 seats forcing the Shiv Sena to accept the change in ground reality. This change in equation was, to a great extent, aided by national factors.
Devendra Fadnavis happens to be the first non-Congress chief minister to complete his five-year tenure. And, in all probability, he is set to return with a bigger mandate. That is primarily because the opposition is in complete disarray due to defections, desertions, lack of leadership and inability to offer a cogent alternative. Also, people’s general disenchantment with dynastic politics has contributed to the declining political fortunes of the Congress and NCP.
Added to that is the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) hot pursuit of NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel.
While Pawar has been targeted for his alleged role in the ₹25,000-crore scam in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB), Patel is in the centre of a money laundering probe involving Iqbal Mirch, an aide of gangster Dawood Ibrahim. He is also being investigated, by the ED for his alleged role in the losses suffered by Air India when he was the civil aviation minister.
With none from the opposition camp having a pan-Maharashtra appeal, things have become easy for the BJP-Shiv Sena. Even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s campaign lacked lustre as was evident from his inability to fire the imagination of the electorate.
The BJP-Shiv Sena ruling combine has also been successful in steering the campaign narrative to its advantage. Issues like farmers’ suicides, drought, joblessness and economic slowdown don’t find a mention in any of the speeches of the leaders.
They all revolve around muscular nationalism, corruption, article 370 and dynastic politics-subjects on which the opposition is on a sticky wicket. Of late, the question of VD Savarkar deserving a Bharat Ratna or not has hogged the headlines relegating all other issues to the background.
On account of the real issues getting sidelined in the poll campaign, the voter turn-out too may not be impressive.
In the light of the above stated reasons, the October 21 election is clearly a one-sided affair with the BJP-Shiv Sena all set to bulldoze the opposition out of the Vidhan Sabha. The degree to which the Congress-NCP combine is able to withstand the onslaught of the ruling dispensation remains to be seen.
For the record, a total of 288 seats are up for grabs for which 3237 candidates, including 1400 independents, are in the fray. While the BJP is contesting in 164 seats, its ally Shiv Sena will contest in 126 seats. The Congress (147), NCP (121), BSP (262), MNS (101), CPI (16) and CPM (8) are the other major parties that are testing their electoral chances in the October 21 polls.
But for the Fadnavis-Uddhav Thackeray duo, Diwali would begin in earnest on October 24, when the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are opened for counting of votes.