MUMBAI: With pollsters predicting more seats for the opposition Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the state’s results in the Lok Sabha elections could differ from trends in the rest of the country. They could also result in a setback to the BJP, putting a question mark on the leadership of the three Mahayuti allies.

Mumbai, India – Sept. 1, 2023: Dy CM Ajit Pawar, CM Eknath Shinde, Dy CM Devendra Fadnavis, during “Mahayuti” alliance meeting at NSCI, Worli, in Mumbai, India, on Friday, September 1, 2023. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

Amid the turmoil in Maharashtra over agrarian issues, the Maratha reservation stir and people’s reported anger at the BJP’s splitting of the Shiv Sena and NCP, exit polls by state-level agencies have predicted that the MVA will win over 24 of the 48 parliamentary seats. Western Maharashtra is believed to have stood by the Sharad Pawar-led faction of the NCP, while in Marathwada, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) is expected to give its best strike rate at the cost of the BJP. The Congress has a chance of bettering its performance in Vidarbha. The BJP, on the other hand, is on a sticky wicket in North Maharashtra apart from facing possible losses in Vidarbha and Marathwada.

Witness the final chapter of the Lok Sabha Elections unfold on HT with live vote count and results. Explore now! Download Now!

The BJP-led NDA had won 41 seats in both 2014 and 2019, decimating opposition parties and had set a target of over 45 seats this time. It pooled 51.75% and 51.34% votes in the last two elections. The newly forged political equations in Maharashtra, however, are not working in the BJP’s favour, say pollsters. This could pose questions about the political ability of the BJP’s new partners, their leaders and the prospects of the alliance.

A senior BJP leader claimed that though the NDA tally would take a hit in the state, the BJP would be just a few seats short of its last tally of 23 seats. “More than our leadership, the allies will have to be blamed more for the overall losses,” he said. “But this could be a blessing in disguise for us, as it gives us the opportunity to call the shots within the alliance. It will play in our favour in the assembly polls later this year and the local body polls after them. Our leadership, which has been playing second fiddle in the state, may turn assertive if the results are as per the predictions.”

BJP leaders have already started analysing the possible reasons for a slide. Former minister Eknath Khadse, who is believed to be on the way back to the party, said it was time for the BJP to introspect ahead of the assembly polls. “The drop in the tally may be because of the breaking of the Shiv Sena and NCP and the unrest among farmers,” he said. “Voters have not accepted it.”

BJP leader and state minister Girish Mahajan admitted that the ruling alliance could take a hit because of inflation and farmers’ issues. “Apart from this, there was a need to change some of the candidates,” he said. “However, we are winning at least 35 seats.”

A section of the BJP leadership cited the infighting among leaders and said that it could spiral after the results and before the assembly polls. “The state leadership wanted a few incumbent MPs to be dropped but the central leadership, which includes national general secretary Vinod Tawde, did not permit this,” said Mahajan. “The state leadership under deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis believes this could be the reason for the loss of seats.” Mahajan added that the Fadnavis camp believed it was high time the state government took major steps to address the voter unrest if the alliance wanted a better performance in the assembly polls.

According to political observers, the prediction of a better performance by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) and Sharad Pawar-led NCP could prove the perception that voters were upset at the engineered splits in their parties. This, they said, would make the task of the factions led by chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar difficult in the bitter survival battle. “Their bargaining power within the ruling alliance will drastically reduce, posing a question of their survival if both these factions fare more poorly than their opponents’ factions,” admitted a Shinde Sena leader. “The Lok Sabha results will have a bearing on the assembly and local body polls.”

Amid the prediction of a better show by the opposition, leaders of the Shinde Sena have been saying that the Thackeray-led Sena will join the NDA after the election results. The Thackeray faction has vehemently denied this.

Mumbai-based political analyst Hemant Desai said that if the exit polls proved to be true, the leadership of Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar would be questioned first. “In such a case, the BJP will not hesitate to assert its dominance over its allies,” he said.