Maharashtra Assembly Election: Ready for replay

The die is cast for a seemingly one-sided election that is important in more ways than one. An emphatic win would be for CM Fadnavis a re affirmation of his leadership and determine the contours of the evolving ties between the Shiv Sena and the BJP; it may push Congress further into political wilderness and precipitate the succession war in the NCP.

Mumbai: After a one-sided election campaign, marked by predominance of the BJP and bursts of bravado from NCP leader Sharad Pawar, the die is cast for Maharashtra Assembly elections.

For the BJP, Maharashtra is not just another state that it needs to recapture to perpetuate the legend of PM Modi’s invincibility, but a bold gambit to stamp out the NCP and keep the Congress confined to the margins of political wilderness.

On a micro plane, it is a litmus test for PM Modi’s poster boy Devendra Fadnavis. A second coming would put a seal on his style of governance, marked by an understated flourish and a responsiveness that is seldom seen in State-level politicians.

On another mundane level, the high-decibel campaign has been about the BJP hard sell on scrapping of Article 370, which has subsumed local governance issues. At its core lies the party belief that PM Modi has an uncanny ability to change the political narrative to suit his ends.

With a staggering 3,237 candidates in the fray from a host of parties, the contest for the 288 seats promises to be an all-out political war which would determine the future of both the Congress and the NCP. In the case of the latter (NCP), it will also determine how the succession battle pans out.

The 49-year old CM is contesting from the prestigious Nagpur South-West seat and is pitted against Ashish Deshmukh of the Congress. BJP leaders are confident that it will be a 'cakewalk' for Fadnavis, but the caste politics has come into play and can prove to be the bewildering ‘X’ factor.

Another hot seat is Karad South, where former Congress Chief Minister, Prithviraj Daijisaheb Chavan, is being challenged by BJP’s Atulbaba Suresh Bhosale.

Another Chavan (Ashok Shankarrao) – also a former Congress chief minister – is slugging it out with BJP's Shrinivas, alias Bapusaheb Deshmukh Gorthekar, in Bhokar.

NCP’s strongman and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Anantrao Pawar is fighting a battle for survival from his family bastion of Baramati, and is pitted against the BJP's Gopichand Kundlik Padalkar.

Another former Deputy CM in reckoning is NCP's Chhagan Chandrakant Bhujbal, who is seeking re-election from his stronghold Yevla, and is facing a strong rival in Shiv Sena's Sambhaji Sahebrao Pawar.

A seat that needs watching is Parli, where the Munde cousins are locked in an intense struggle. Two party chiefs are also in the fray. The first is BJP's Maharashtra unit chief Chandrakant Bachhu Patil from Kothrud, who is trying to fend off Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's lawyer Kishor Nana Shinde.

The other party chief in fray is Maharashtra Congress President Vijay alias Balasaheb Bhausaheb Thorat, who has to overcome his main rival Shiv Sena's Sahebrao Ramchandra Navale in Sangamner.

Mumbai also has two prominent party presidents contesting - BJP's Mangalprabhat Lodha from Malabar Hill against Congress' Hira Navaji Devasi, and NCP's Nawab Malik from Anushakti Nagar; he is being challenged by Sena's Tukaram Ramkrushna Kate.

Another key contestant is Mumbai Mayor, Sena's Vishwanath Pandurang Mahadeshwar, who is pitted against a rebel sitting MLA, Trupti Prakash Sawant, expelled recently by Uddhav Thackeray; the presence of Zeeshan Baba Siddique of Congress makes it an interesting triangular contest.

The grand-nephew of NCP President Sharad Pawar, Rohit Pawar, is making his electoral debut from Karjat-Jamkhed seat and is pitted against BJP's Ram Shankar Shinde.

In Nala Sopara, former encounter specialist cop, Pradeep Rameshwar Sharma, is the Sena nominee, challenging the sitting legislator, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi's Kshitij Hitendra Thakur.

Besides, there are ministers of the BJP-Sena combine, scions of political families, members of the erstwhile royal families, film personalities, activists, et al.

In many constituencies, besides the two main alliances, there are other contenders like Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, the MNS, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, all with a potential to tilt the scales either way.