New Delhi/Mumbai: A majority of the exit polls project the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to emerge as the single largest party in Maharashtra and an outright winner in Haryana, which would be a spectacular performance by the party in a state where it won only four assembly seats five years ago.

If these results hold when the votes from Wednesday’s polling are counted on 19 October, not only will the BJP have strengthened its political hold at the expense of its principal rival the Congress party, it would etch a new chapter in the party’s 34-year history.

These assembly elections are unique as the BJP, unlike its rivals, did not project a chief ministerial candidate and instead built its entire campaign around Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In Maharashtra, analysts say, if the exit polls are proven correct, it would mark a tectonic shift in the state’s politics, especially since both the ruling and opposition space—the Shiv Sena is projected to end up as the second largest party—will be occupied by right-wing parties.

The projected verdict will also revive uncomfortable questions for the Congress party. Not only will its leadership, defined around party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, come under greater scrutiny, the country’s oldest party will also worry about the alarming pace at which its national footprint is shrinking.

The exit polls gave a clear edge to the BJP in both the states. While Today’s Chanakya predicted 151 seats for the BJP in Maharashtra, it pegged the party’s tally in Haryana at 52—both being fairly above the half-way mark in the state assemblies.

Similarly, the ABP-Nielsen exit poll gave 144 seats to the BJP in Maharashtra and 54 in Haryana. The C-Voter-Times Now exit poll has predicted 129 seats for the BJP in the Maharashtra assembly and 37 seats in Haryana.

On Wednesday, Haryana recorded its highest-ever voter turnout of 76% while the turnout in Maharashtra, too, was expected to be over 64%, according to the according to the respective chief electoral officers.

Interestingly, the BJP under Modi and recently appointed party chief Amit Shah took the gamble of breaking its alliances in Maharashtra and Haryana and decided to contest the elections alone. BJP snapped its 25-year-old alliance with Shiv Sena, deciding to no longer play the role of a junior partner in the state. In Haryana, it took a bold decision to break its ties with the Haryana Janhit Congress after the general elections in which it won seven out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The BJP had also performed well in Maharashtra by winning 23 out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

“The high turnout in the polls shows that the vote in the two assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana is against the lack of governance by Congress party in the two states. The BJP contested the elections on the issues of development and the credibility of the party’s leadership. BJP will get absolute majority in both the states and we will form government," said J.P. Nadda, general secretary of the BJP.

The massive effort made by the party to ensure that the popularity of Modi translates into votes can be gauged from the fact that it held nearly 1,000 public meetings in Maharashtra and Haryana; it also held nearly 20,000 digital rallies in which it deployed some 200 vans to telecast pre-recorded speeches of Modi in rural areas of the two states. Soon after polling ended in the two states on Wednesday evening, senior BJP leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari pointed out that the Shiv Sena should not have made personal remarks against Modi and should avoid targeting Modi through editorials in its mouthpiece Saamana.

For the Congress, losing both the states would eventually mean a complete wipeout from the Hindi heartland, a re-think of its political strategies and an overhaul in its party organization.

“We do not comment on exit polls. t is just a matter of four days, we will wait for the results," Ajoy Kumar, Congress’ national spokesperson, said on the findings of the exit polls.

Political analysts who have keenly watched the BJP’s efforts to expand its voter base in both Maharashtra and Haryana said the lack of credible leaders at the state level and the absence of organizational strength were limitations for the party in both states.

“For BJP, Modi’s leadership was the biggest asset and apart from this, 15 years of anti-incumbency against Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government also worked in favour of BJP," said Prakash Pawar, head of the department of political science at Shivaji University in Kolhapur, Maharashtra.

Pawar added that Shiv Sena tried to mix regional aspirations and Hindu icons cleverly and the strategy seems to be working for it, but the breakup with the BJP will hurt the party. “For Congress there was nothing to show but chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s image. And for NCP, nothing seems to be working; the party is paying a price for corruption and arrogance," Pawar said.

Pawar said: “Maharashtra has a long tradition of anti-Brahmin movement and even movement of Dalits led by followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, because of which till 1990, Maharashtra’s politics was dominated by Congress and left liberal parties like Peasants and Workers Party, Janata Dal, Republican Party of India, among others.

“However what exit polls are showing is that the Congress and NCP, which were beneficiaries of anti-Brahmin movement, are (being) sent to the margins...and BJP, which was considered to be a party of Brahmins and baniyas (a community of traders) has managed to get acceptance in all sections of society."

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