NAGPUR, Maharashtra — Almost all exit polls have projected a comfortable win for the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in the Maharashtra assembly election. However, a swing of 10-20 seats could well decide how stable the alliance will be, as the saffron allies have not always played nice with each other in the past five years.
In the 2014 assembly election, which took place four months after the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, had swept the Lok Sabha election. The BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 122 seats while Shiv Sena won 63 seats. The Congress was reduced to 42 seats, the NCP was close behind at 41, and Raj Thackeray’s MNS could win only one seat.
In 2014, the four major political parties in Maharashtra had contested the assembly election separately. This time, there are two big alliances—BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP—facing off against each other.
A total of 3,239 candidates were in the fray for 288 assembly seats in this election.
Ahead of votes being counted on Thursday, here’s a look at the star candidates, turncoats and bellwether constituencies.
STAR CANDIDATES AND CONSTITUENCIES:
Only the second Maharashtra chief minister to complete his tenure in the last 40 years, Devendra Fadnavis’s political career could witness new highs if he repeats the party’s 2014 performance. He was elevated to the CM post despite having no ministerial experience, but the 49-year-old has emerged as the undisputed leader in Maharashtra’s BJP, sidelining each of his opponents. He has also carefully crafted his image, reportedly by fostering loyal media allies, and has been accused of governing the state through an overly centralized CMO and bureaucracy. Fadnavis is seeking re-election from Nagpur south-west for the consecutive fourth term and is pitted against Congress’s Ashish Deshmukh. Deshmukh, the BJP MLA from Katol assembly segment in Nagpur district, had joined the Congress a few months ago. According to some Congress sources, Deshmukh agreed to the contest when no Congress leader was willing to go up against the CM. This seat, however, is unlikely to produce any surprises on results day. Many in the BJP think that if Fadnavis can lead his party to a convincing win, he may even eye a national role soon.
The grandson of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, Aaditya Thackeray has become the first person from his famous family to actually contest an election. The elder son of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav, Aaditya heads the party’s youth wing, Yuva Sena, and has traversed the state ahead of the election, as part of his “Jan Ashirvad Yatra”. Even before filing his nomination form from Worli, a seat considered a Shiv Sena bastion, Aaditya was being projected as a probable CM or deputy CM candidate. He and his father have denied these reports but the BJP has indicated willingness to accommodate the 29-year-old in its next cabinet. Thackeray’s strongest fight in Worli will come from Bahujan Republican Socialist Party chief Suresh Mane, who has the support of the Congress-NCP. No surprises are expected from the Worli seat as well, but the results will be closely watched. Aaditya’s entry into the state legislature could well decide the nature of the relationship between the BJP and the Shiv Sena over the next five years.
Ajit Pawar and Rohit Pawar
The former Maharashtra deputy CM and nephew of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar was considered the natural successor to his uncle in the party until recently. However, his son Parth’s insistence on contesting the Lok Sabha election earlier this year exposed the fissures in one of Maharashtra’s most famous families, as Sharad Pawar withdrew from the Lok Sabha contest when Ajit pushed for his son’s ticket. On the day Sharad Pawar decided to appear before the Enforcement Directorate voluntarily, Ajit quietly submitted his resignation as MLA to the Maharashtra assembly speaker and went incommunicado. The next day, he appeared before media after a two-hour-long meeting with his uncle and broke down in front of cameras. He claimed that everything was fine in the family and that he was “disturbed” because his uncle’s name was being dragged into a bank scam, but political observers tot up his unrest as a result of the rise of another Pawar—Rohit Pawar, the son of Ajit’s cousin Rajendra. Rohit, who has been compared with Sharad Pawar for his calm demeanour and grassroots contact, is contesting his maiden election from Karjat Jamkhed constituency in Ahmednagar district. Ajit is contesting from the Pawar family’s pocket borough Baramati in Pune district. He is pitted against former Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Gopichand Padalkar, who joined the BJP on the eve of the election. While Ajit’s victory is seen as a foregone conclusion, it is Rohit’s fate in Karjat-Jamkhed which could decide the senior politician’s immediate future.
The former Maharashtra deputy chief minister is considered the tallest OBC politician in the state. Known as a firebrand politician, Bhujbal spent almost two years in jail over an alleged scam in the construction of Maharashtra Sadan. Many had thought the veteran leader’s political career was almost over, as he was facing serious health issues inside the jail. But once outside, he successfully cashed in on the sympathy factor and was one of the star campaigners of the NCP this election. In terms of seniority and clout, Bhujbal is considered next only to Sharad Pawar in the NCP. He was the sole NCP leader who openly disapproved of Ajit Pawar’s resignation as an MLA right on the day Sharad Pawar was to appear before the ED. Bhujbal is seeking re-election from Yeola assembly segment in Nashik district, while his son Pankaj is contesting from Nandgoan seat in the same district.
The former Maharashtra chief minister is contesting the assembly election from the Karad south assembly segment in Satara district of the state. A former minister for PMO in the Manmohan Singh cabinet, Prithviraj Chavan has focused his attention mostly on his own assembly segment despite being one of the star campaigners for the Congress. Initially, Chavan was said to be in contention for the Satara Lok Sabha seat, to which a by-election was necessitated due to the defection of King Shivaji’s descendent Udayan Raje Bhosale to the BJP. However, Chavan preferred to contest the assembly election as the NCP cadre in the district was against Pawar’s decision to give the seat to the Congress party.
Located in the central Maharashtra region, Karjat-Jamkhed is considered one of the most complex assembly segments in the state. This seat will be closely watched on counting day, as Sharad Pawar’s grandnephew Rohit is contesting his maiden election from here. Sharad Pawar recently declared that his successor would be elected democratically by people. With Ajit Pawar’s fortunes on the wane, Rohit may well emerge as the new rallying point for the opposition post the election, if he manages to get elected from this seat which has been a BJP bastion for over 25 years now. Rohit is pitted against Fadnavis’s cabinet colleague Ram Shinde. Ajit Pawar and his son Parth have denied that they are uneasy over Rohit’s emergence, but Ajit’s recent actions, including his resignation as an MLA, have been read in reaction to this.
This Brahmin-dominated assembly segment in Pune city is being watched because the BJP has fielded its state chief and No. 2 in the Fadnavis cabinet, Chandrakant Patil, from here. Patil, a Maratha, is pitted against MNS’s Kishor Shinde who has the support of the Congress-NCP combine as well. Kothrud is known as a BJP bastion, but many local BJP leaders and Brahmin groups were not happy with a Maratha candidate being “imposed” on them. Patil is considered the only competitor to Fandavis and his likely successor if, post-election, the BJP leadership promotes the latter to a national role. However, his future would depend on the outcome in Kothrud, as this is his first direct election.
This seat is in the news as former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan is contesting from here. In the outgoing assembly, Bhokar was represented by Chavan’s wife Ameeta. But Chavan decided to enter the fray after a setback in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year. Chavan is pitted against BJP’s Bapusaheb Gorthekar in this seat. A win from here may well revive Chavan’s fortunes but a loss could put an end to his political career—he lost the Lok Sabha election four months ago and had to step aside as the Maharashtra PCC chief.
Parali is perhaps witnessing the most interesting battle this election as the fight in this seat is between late BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja and nephew Dhananjay. The cousins have been involved in a tussle for Munde’s legacy since his death. Pankaja was made a minister in the Fadnavis cabinet while Dhananjay is a prominent NCP politician in the state and the leader of opposition in the state council. In the 2014 assembly election, which took place right after Munde’s death, Pankaja had defeated her cousin by over 25,000 votes. However, Dhananjay has emerged as a powerful NCP face in the past five years, making this fight all the more interesting. The cousins have levelled various allegations against each other and their supporters have got into street fights in the drought-prone Beed district.
The son of former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane, Nitesh was the Congress MLA from Kankavli assembly segment in Sindhudurg district. He shifted loyalties ahead of the election and is now contesting from the same seat as the BJP’s candidate. A week ago, Narayan Rane merged his Maharashtra Swabhiman Party with the BJP. However, the younger Rane is facing a tough fight from BJP’s own ally Shiv Sena, which has put up Satish Sawant, who was once a close aide of Narayan Rane. Nitesh’s victory will be crucial in keeping his father politically relevant in the state.
Udayan Raje Bhosale
The descendant of warrior Maratha king Shivaji, Bhosale was elected as the NCP MP from Satara Lok Sabha seat in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year. However, within four months, he switched his loyalties to BJP and is now pitted against NCP’s Shrinivas Patil in the Lok Sabha by-election. Sharad Pawar has campaigned extensively for his candidate in this prestigious Lok Sabha by-poll. While the BJP has projected Bhosle to consolidate Marathas behind it, Pawar has taken this up as a battle of prestige, making this an interesting seat.
A former cabinet minister in the Prithviraj Chavan cabinet, Patil switched from Congress to BJP on the eve of the election and is seeking re-election from the Indapur assembly segment in Pune district. Bordering Pawar’s pocket borough Baramati, Patil’s election from Indapur may well give a stamp of approval for the large number of defections the BJP engineered from Congress-NCP ahead of the elections.