New Delhi/Mumbai/Chandigarh: The BJP was within striking distance of power in both Haryana and Maharashtra, exit polls said Wednesday at the end of keenly fought assembly elections that pitted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party against all key players in the two states.
Various exit polls gave the Bharatiya Janata Party a margin of 42-54 seats in the 90-member Haryana assembly and 124-151 seats in the 288-strong Maharashtra legislature.
The Congress, which had ruled Haryana for the last 10 years, was predicted to end up with just 10-18 seats. In Maharashtra, the exit polls gave the Shiv Sena, the BJP's former ally for 25 years, 51-77 seats, Congress 27-48 seats and Nationalist Congress Party 28-41 seats. The last two had ruled the state for three terms since 1999 before their alliance ended last month.
While some exit polls predicted BJP getting a majority in the two states, others projected it as the single largest party, a few seats short of a simple majority.
The bitter battle for Maharashtra ended Wednesday evening with over 64 percent of the 8.35 crore electorate voting. Polling also took place for the Beed Lok Sabha seat where a bypoll was necessitated following the death in June of central minister Gopinath Munde.
Sena youth leader Aditya Thackeray asserted that not only would his party form the government, but its president (his father) Uddhav Thackeray would be the next chief minister.
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".
Stray incidents of violence marred an otherwise peaceful election.
In Gadchiroli district, Maoists attempted to disrupt the polls by firing at a polling booth but security personnel returned fire and voting continued peacefully. Some incidents were also reported from Yavatmal, Thane and Mumbai.
Mumbai saw celebrities, including industrialists, Bollywood stars, television actors and cricketers, queueing up to vote and urging people to follow suit. Among those seen were industrialists Anil Ambani and Adi Godrej, and film personalities Rekha, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Jaya and Abhishek Bachchan, Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Sonali Bendre, Anupam Kher, Hema Malini, Amol Palekar, Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao-Khan, Esha Deol, Nana Patekar, Prem Chopra, Govinda, Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Rishi Kapoor and family, and Jeetendra and his family.
A total of 4,119 candidates were in the fray in the elections that saw Maharashtra's two main coalitions -- the BJP-Shiv Sena combine and the NCP-Congress alliance -- collapse, making the contest wide open but with advantage to BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP's campaign, addressing scores of heavily attended rallies and prompting a verbal assault from Shiv Sena. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was also a key contender but surveys indicate it seemed to barely make an impact.
During the campaign, other parties attacked the BJP more than any other, making it a de facto BJP-versus-rest battle.
In Haryana, the voters Wednesday set a new record with over 75.5 percent of the 1.63 crore electorate exercising their franchise, perking up the BJP's hopes to come to power on its own.
This is the highest voting in Haryana assembly polls since 1967, chief electoral officer Shrikant Walgad said.The previous record of maximum polling was 72.65 percent in 1967. In 2009, Haryana recorded nearly 72.29 percent voting.
The BJP was confident of victory. "The BJP is all set to form the next government in Haryana on its own. We will get a clear majority and end scams and corruption," party leader Abhimanyu said.
Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was not willing to give up easily, saying the "response of the voters" showed the Congress will form the government for a third term.
INLD leader Abhay Chautala claimed the heavy turnout was an indication that his party would form the next government.
Minor clashes at about 10 places marred the otherwise peaceful polling.
Exit polls were unanimous in their prediction about major gains for BJP. Here is a state-wise prediction of some exit polls.
India TV C-Voter - BJP (124-134 seats), Shiv Sena (51-61), NCP (31-41), Congress (38-48), MNS (9-15).
Today's Chanakya - BJP 151 (+/- 9), Shiv Sena 71 (+/- 9), Congress 27 (+/-5), NCP 28 (+/- 5), MNS and others 11 (+/- 5).
ABP News-Nielsen - BJP+ (127 seats), Shiv Sena (77), Congress (40), NCP (34) and MNS (5).
C-voter poll - BJP (129), Congress (43), Shiv Sena (56), NCP (36).
India TV- C Voter - BJP (42-48), INLD (20-26), Congress (12-18).
ABP-Nielsen poll - BJP (54), Congress (10) and the INLD (22).
Today's Chanakya - BJP 52 (+/-7), INLD 23 (+/-7), Congress 10 (+/-5) and others five (+/-3).