Mumbai, Oct 23 : After the Maharashtra Assembly elections got over on Monday, more than half a dozen exit poll surveys have predicted a decisive return for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine and a near-total rout for the Opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance.
If it happens -- as the pollsters predict -- this will be BJP-Sena's fourth consecutive win in the politically second-most-important state -- two consecutive victories in Lok Sabha 2014, 2019, one in Assembly 2014, probably followed by 2019 -- with serious future ramifications for the battered and demoralized opposition.
As on previous occasions, the BJP-Sena nonchalantly pursued a nationalist poll agenda in the state to catch votes in the EVMs.
They generously invoked the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A for Jammu and Kashmir, the Ram Temple, Pulwama and Balakot strikes, national security, etc. as prime achievements, besides, 'surgical strikes' on opposition families (Gandhis-Pawars), their alleged corruption and warned of their total washout from the national/state political stage.
The ruling combine contemptuously dismissed the Congress-NCP's attempts to shift the debate to issues like the sliding economy, unemployment, farmers' suicides, inflation, despair in businesses, etc, and continued to harp aggressively on national or nationalistic themes.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, at a rally in the country's commercial capital Mumbai, attempted to corner the BJP-Sena by declaring that "the economy was in great shape" during the two Congress-led UPA regimes.
The Congress even brought out its jewel in the crown -- former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 87 -- to deliver a stark homily to the Modi government for failing the economy, and sharply admonishing them "to stop blaming the previous government for the ills" plaguing the country now.
Apparently stung by this double-whammy, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman travelled all the way to the USA to take potshots at the Congress, and claimed on a global stage that 'all is well' with the Indian economy. Incidentally, just a few weeks ago, she had squarely blamed aggregator cabs and the Generation Y for some of the ills plaguing the economy.
Even the NCP valiantly attempted to focus on state issues and questioned the relevance of Jammu and Kashmir to Maharashtra elections by posing a counter -- whether the BJP would rake up Maharashtra farmers' issues in the Jammu and Kashmir elections.
Feeling down but not out, the 78-year-old NCP President Sharad Pawar campaigned like a zestful youngster, once addressing an election rally during a chilly downpour in Satara, and predicted "a miracle" in the Oct. 24 results, as the gathering responded with a thunderous applause.
All this, when he had just emerged from a bout of high-profile defections from the NCP, a mega-scare from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) which named him and nephew Ajit Pawar in the alleged Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank Ltd. (MSCB) scam, and a crestfallen Ajit Pawar quietly quitting his assembly seat (Baramati) on the eve of the assembly polls.
But, defiant and determined, he practically carried the entire opposition alliance campaign on his frail shoulders while stalwarts like former union home minister and former Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde wearily took a back seat, saying both Congress-NCP are now 'tired' and should merge in future.
Exploiting the NCP's discomfiture to the hilt, the BJP leered and jeered at the Pawars, saying by 2024, their political influence in the state would be completely erased, and even hinting that some members of the Pawar clan might consider joining the BJP for their survival.
The ruling ally, Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray - who had once pompously compared the Team Modi campaign in 2014 as "Afzal Khan's army", was all smiles and grins in 2019, as the party is finally optimistic of making it big in state politics after 1995-1999 -- when it led the Sena-BJP government -- albeit, riding piggyback on BJP this time.
For starters, the first-ever Thackeray family scion Aditya Thackeray, 29, has stepped into the muddle of electoral politics, and subsequently, the Sena bent backwards in seat-sharing harbouring dreams of sharing the CM's post with BJP, or at least, hoping to wrest the post of Deputy CM.
Nevertheless, Uddhav Thackeray made the right noises on the Ram Temple issue, the uniform civil code, lavished praises on both Modi and BJP President Amit Shah for abrogating Article 370 and 35A, and generally appeared all-too-eager to please everyone in the BJP.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and the Owaisis' party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, may be content to remain on the political fringes, as per exit poll predictions.
While the VBA and AIMIM are likely to fail again in denting the BJP-Sena bulldozers, Raj Thackeray might be required to grapple with the ED or sit tight at home and play political video-games till the next elections...! (Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)