Shiv Sena's political clout may take a hit in Maharashtra, show exit polls

Most exit polls have predicted that saffron supremacy is there to stay in Maharashtra. The silver lining for the Congress-NCP alliance is that it may get to almost double the tally from six in 2014. 

The NDA, which had amassed 42 seats out of 48 in 2014, is likely to settle down at 35 to 36, an average of eight polls suggests. Shiv Sena, a part of the NDA, had won 18 seats in 2014, but now it's projected to win 11 to 13 seats, according to some of the polls. This may result in Shiv Sena taking a bigger brunt of the loss, while Sharad Pawar-led NCP could be a net gainer. This could have three key outcomes that could alter the structure of Maharashtra politics further. 

First, it could diminish the political importance of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, its only home, and could further reduce its bargaining power with the BJP. Second, Congress’ decline in Maharashtra could exacerbate if exit polls hold true. Third, this could mean a better prospect for the Nationalist Congress Party to be the biggest opposition force in the upcoming Assembly elections.

In the immediate future, there is a chance that the NCP might offer a helping hand to the single largest party if such a situation arises for government formation. A bigger impact could come when Maharashtra will elect a new Assembly in October. Maharshtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray topped the charts in pulling crowds to rallies during the Lok Sabha campaign, without contesting. 

When the MNS contests key urban seats in October, Thackeray could be a big factor, political observers say. A revived NCP led by state leaders such as Ajit Pawar has the potential to raise the pitch in Maharashtra politics. The Congress-NCP state alliance had won 84 seats out of 288 in 2014 assembly polls. In the backdrop of a minor rise in NCP seats, fall in Shiv Sena’s footprint, coupled with the possibility that MNS could win some seats, the Opposition has only a thin chance to pose a serious threat to BJP-Shiv Sena in the Assembly elections. However, the biggest message from the exit polls is for the Congress: that it might need to buckle up afresh.  

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