Maharashtra with 48 seats in the Lok Sabha is politically the second-most important state in the country; next only to Uttar Pradesh which boasts of 80 seats. And that is the reason why both the principal alliances - the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party - are fighting tooth and nail in the state.
Polling in Vidarbha with ten seats took place on Thursday and the 58 polling percentage is having both the combines worried. They are now planning to spur their plans for the next two phases – April 17 and 24.
Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, have campaigned extensively and so have the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Hundreds of crores have been pumped into the campaign, which underlies the desperation of the rival coalitions to have a rich harvest in the state.
In a bid to score over the saffron combine, the Congress and the NCP arrived at seat adjustments early in the day, with the Congress getting 27 seats and the NCP 21. After initial hiccups, the BJP and the Shiv Sena settled for 25 and 20 seats respectively. The Congress, which won 17 seats last time, is hoping to bag at least 22 seats despite the anti-incumbency wave.
Pawar, whose party had won eight seats in 2009, is hoping to take the tally to 15 so that his political relevance in Delhi improves. Though not in fray, Pawar has still not given up his dream of becoming the PM. A man who never gives up easily, it will not be surprising if he moves closer to the NDA in the post-poll scenario.
The Hindutva parties, however, had a bad start to the campaign because of senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari's overtures to MNS. While this infuriated Uddhav Thackeray, BJP's national leaders like Rajnath Singh pulled up Gadkari for the "uncalled for" move. But, Gadkari did manage to get MNS chief Raj Thackeray not to put up candidates against his party in most of the seats being contested by it. The ten nominees of the MNS are basically against the Sena candidates.
The BJP and the Sena put behind the embarrassment caused by Gadkari to a large extent, but in Nagpur and other seats in Vidarbha, Sena activists reportedly did not campaign enthusiastically for the BJP. The BJP also paid back the Sena in the same coin.
However, both the parties are banking on the anti-UPA factor, fuelled by corruption, price rise and the perceived non-performance of Prithviraj Chavan government to propel them towards victory. Modi himself is reportedly expecting the alliance to win 35 seats so that he can reach the magical figure of 272.