Mumbai: The BJP, which virtually contested against all others in Maharashtra, seemed set to make major gains with exit polls holding it to emerge the single-largest party in the 288-member assembly while some gave it a majority as the bitter electoral battle ended Wednesday.
Its former ally Shiv Sena was second, while the strength of former partners Congress and NCP, who governed the state for three successive terms before their alliance ended last month, appeared to wane sharply, and Raj Thackeray`s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena seemed to barely make an impact.
According to Today`s Chanakya, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would get a majority with 151 seats, the Shiv Sena would get 71, while the Congress would be reduced to 27 and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to 28.
The ABP-Nielsen exit poll gave BJP 127, while Shiv Sena was second with 77, the Congress with 40, the NCP 34 and MNS 5, while Times Now-C Voter held 129 seats for the BJP, the Sena 56, Congress 43, NCP 36 and the MNS with 9.
Around 64 percent of the 8.35 crore strong electorate of the sprawling western state turning out to vote for their choices among the 4,119 candidates in the fray. Voting was also held for the Beed parliamentary constituence where a bypoll was necessitated by the death of sitting MP, union minister Gopinath Munde.
Shiv Sena, whose 25-year-old alliance with the BJP ended last month, and fought the elections on the plank of "dignity and self-respect of Maharashtra", was however equally upbeat over its prospects.
Sena youth leader Aditya Thackeray asserted that not only would the party form the government, but party chief (his father) Uddhav Thackeray would be the next chief minister.
"We have a well-known face, the hard work by our activists and a progressive and aggressive vision for the state, unlike the opposition parties," he told media persons soon after polling ended.
On the other hand, senior BJP leader and MP Poonam Mahajan confidently declared that "the people would support the vision of development propounded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi".
Congress, NCP - which also called off their 15-year-old alliance last month - and MNS leaders appeared to withdraw in a shell, though lower rung leaders claimed that "surprises" would be in store after the counting.
With most exit polls predicting a hung assembly, the state may witness unprecedented political permutations and combinations emerging after the results. Stray incidents of violence marred the otherwise peaceful polling in the state amidst tight security.
In Gadchiroli district, some Maoists attempted to disrupt polls by firing at a polling booth, but the security personnel promptly returned fire and voting continued peacefully.
A woman politician from Digras in Yavatmal allegedly assaulted an election officer over a minor fracas, but voting was not affected.
Yavatmal reported clashes between some villagers and security personnel in which at least one policeman was injured in stone-throwing.
At least three political activists were injured in clashes and stone-pelting in Aunjur-Dive village near Bhiwandi town in Thane district. The injured have been admitted to IGM Hospital nearby while security was further tightened.
In Mumbai, the vehicle belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Sena candidate Geeta Gawli was stoned by unknown political rivals and damaged, before they fled from the scene, while in Aurangabad, MIM candidate Imtiyaz Jalil`s vehicle was also stoned.
Mumbai`s usual colourful voting saw top celebrities, including industrialists, Bollywood stars, television actors and cricketers queued up to vote and inspiring others to follow suit.
Among those seen during the day were industrialists Anil Ambani and Adi Godrej, and film personalities like Rekha, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Sonali Bendre, Anupam Kher, Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini, Amol Palekar, Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao-Khan, Esha Deol, Nana Patekar, Prem Chopra, Govinda, Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Rishi Kapoor and family, Jeetendra and his family.
Counting will be held Oct 19.