Mumbai: As the EVMs begin to show their vote-count on October 24, Maharashtras Opposition parties are in trepidation as a cacophony of exit polls have predicted an easy victory for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine.
For the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party led contenders -- heavily emaciated by a host of prominent leaders walking over to the ruling camp, the development could spell more danger for retaining its leftover flock intact and in good humour.
The forceful bombardment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah on nationalist issues over economic and state-level issues left the Opposition fumbling and fuming.
At one point, Modi even questioned the Opposition for saying Article 370/35A has no relevance in Maharashtra elections and said: "Aren't they ashamed of such thoughts? Doob Maro.."
"We are not going by these exit poll surveys… Yes, the Article 370/35A did have an impact on the youth… But there were bigger and critical issues like farmers' distress, growing unemployment, industries in shambles, etc, which were avoided by the ruling party," state Congress General Secretary and Spokesperson Sachin Sawant told IANS.
On the other hand, largely discounting the exit polls, NCP National Spokesperson Nawab Malik admitted "this was a very difficult election" with the entire state-power pitted against all opponents.
"Wherever we have worked hard, we will definitely win. We shall accept honourably whatever be the outcome… If we have to sit in the Opposition, we shall function there in a constructive manner in the interests of the masses," Malik told IANS.
"What is the guarantee that these exit poll surveys are unbiased? Regardless of their predictions, we are hoping to bag at least 15-20 seats and sit as an effective opposition, which was the poll plank of our leader Raj Thackeray," a senior Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader said, preferring anonymity.
Though Sawant is optimistic that the Opposition would improve its previous (2014) tally and may even cobble together a grand alliance government, Malik declined to speculate saying he would prefer to await the verdict sealed in the EVMs before commenting.
Swabhiman Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) chief Raju Shetti feels that the exit poll results are like a "one-way traffic" and questions their credibility.
"The ground-level public sentiments are exactly opposite of what is portrayed through these opinion polls. However, if the results still come out contrary to public expectations, then there is possibility of manipulations in the EVMs," Shetti said.
The farmers' leader said that if results keep going against the desires of the common masses, then they would not step out to vote and this will prove detrimental to the interests of a strong democracy.
"Even the major Opposition parties are feeling the pressures of a demoralized cadre who are now asking questions for which there are no answers… Their patience is running out… Already, the Opposition has lost three major elections - 2014-2019 Lok Sabha, and 2014 assembly," Shetti pointed out with concern.
For the major opposition leaders like NCP President Sharad Pawar and his clan, MNS President Raj Thackeray, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader Prakash Ambedkar, an unexpected outcome could well raise questions on their political relevance in the future.
Under pressure from their middle-rung leaders, strategists and grassroots activists, all parties would be called upon to work out effective counter-strategies, delivered aggressively, to the BJP-Sena onslaught in future elections.
"Now, with bleak prospects of bagging the 2019 Assembly, the top leaders of the bigger parties would have to unitedly guide the way to the rest of the opposition," said a Samajwadi Party leader.
He said that the Congress-NCP - under siege after a series of important leaders defecting to the ruling side - maybe required to go for a total overhaul of their parties from the village-level to the state or national level before the 2024 Lok Sabha-assembly elections.
If not, PM's advice to the Opposition "Go Drown" may be the only exit route…!