Mumbai: Though all the exit polls have predicted a clear-cut majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, the 30-odd rebels may play the veritable jokers-in-the-pack.
They are likely to shake the saffron alliance out of its smugness, ruining its dream of cruising home with an 'unprecedented' majority. The rebels may rock the boat by causing the defeat of the alliance candidate in at least 28 to 30 seats, political observers feel.
In the constituencies of Andheri East, Bandra East, Barshi, Gangakhed, Junnar, Kalyan East and West, Karmala, Kudal, Mankhurd, Mira-Bhayandar, Sawantwadi, Solapur City Central and Versova, aspirants from both parties had rebelled against the official alliance candidates.
Officially, there are two seats where the allies have fielded candidates against each other. Kankavli, where the Shiv Sena has fielded Satish Sawant against the BJP’s Nitesh Rane, son of former chief minister Narayan Rane; likewise, Shekhar Gore from the Shiv Sena is contesting against his brother and the BJP candidate, Jaikumar Gore, in Mann.
In Kankavli, BJP candidate Rane is expected to win, while in Mann, the Gore brothers may lose the seat to Independent Prabhakar Deshmukh, as all key parties, the BJP as well as Sena leaders, have openly supported him.
Deshmukh was an IAS officer known for his proximity to NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
Chembur in Mumbai, a Congress stronghold until 2014, was this time contested by the sitting MLA from the Shiv Sena, Prakash Phaterpekar, the alliance candidate as per the seat-sharing agreement. Here, Dhananjay Khodkar of the BJP contested as an Independent, rebelling against the alliance pact.
Phaterpekar faces a tough challenge already, due to anti-incumbency. Khodkar may serve a major blow to him and Congress candidate Chandrakant Handore may win due to this infighting.
In Versova, where the Sena feels it has a strong claim, the BJP ticket went to Dr Bharati Lavekar of the Shiv Sangram Party (a saffron ally). The Sena’s Rajul Patel, however, also contested as an Independent from the seat.
Lavekar's symbol is the lotus while Rajul Patel is openly supported by the Sena. This may seriously damage the prospects of both candidates and Baldev Khosa of the Congress may win.
Khosa has won this seat in the past, too.
The Sena's sitting MLA Trupti Sawant is contesting as an Independent against her party's official candidate and Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar in Bandra East.
Zeeshan Siddique, son of former legislator Baba Siddique, is the Congress candidate for this seat. Keeping in mind the Muslim voter population - the Congress party's traditional vote bank - and the infighting within the Sena, Siddiqui may just about wrest this seat from the Sena.
In Kalyan East and Kalyan West the results may be different. The BJP's sitting MLA, Narendra Pawar, contested as an Independent against the Shiv Sena's Vishwanath Bhoir.
This infighting may benefit the MNS candidate Prakash Bhoir, who won this seat for his party in 2009. In Kalyan East, Dhananjay Bodare, the Sena rebel fought against the sitting MLA and BJP candidate Ganpat Gaikwad.
Both are strong leaders and Gaikwad is facing some anti-incumbency. The division of vote between them may help NCP candidate Prakash Tare win.
In Pimpri-Chinchwad, the BJP had fielded sitting legislator Laxman Jagtap, causing Rahul Kalate, the local Sena leader, to revolt and take on Jagtap. Kalate enjoys the support of the NCP, as it has not fielded a candidate against him. It is highly likely Kalate will win join the NCP, acknowledging its support.
In Barshi constituency of Solapur district, the BJP's Rajendra Raut had rebelled against the alliance candidate, the Sena's Dilip Sopal. As a result, Niranjan Bhumkar of the NCP may win. This seat has traditionally been with the NCP, and Sopal was in the NCP until he crossed over to the Sena.
The battle on the ground in Maharashtra can be termed as a silent battle between the BJP and the Sena, both sides vying to establish a lasting hegemony. Both parties want to occupy maximum political space, after the weakening of the opposing Congress and the NCP.
The Sena and the NCP are contesting against each other in 57 seats, while the Sena and the Congress are in direct fights in 52 seats. It is being said that the BJP is silently helping the NCP and the Congress cut down the Sena to size.
Sensing this possible backstabbing by the BJP, the Sena too is helping the Congress and NCP in the few seats where the BJP is in direct fights with the Congress and the NCP.
This insidious manoeuvring may damage both the BJP and the Sena in a few seats.