New Delhi: Counting of votes in Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections will take place on Thursday, with the BJP looking to retain power, its hopes buoyed by exit polls indicating an easy victory. These were the first major elections after the BJP retained power in the Lok Sabha polls in May, winning 303 seats of the 543.
The counting will began at 8 am, Election Commission officials said.
While most exit polls projected a comfortable victory for the BJP in Haryana, one predicted a close fight between the saffron party and the Congress with the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) likely to play kingmaker. In Maharashtra, exit polls have predicted a clear majority for the BJP-led alliance, comprising the Shiv Sena and other parties in the 288-member Assembly.
Haryana on Monday recorded a voter turnout of over 68%, a sharp decline from 76.54% in the 2014 Assembly polls. Maharashtra recorded a voter turnout of 61.13%.
In 2014, the BJP won 47 seats and the Congress 15 in the northern state, with two Haryana Janhit Congress legislators later merging with it. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had 19 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal one each. There were five independents.
Later, two INLD legislators died and barring Abhay Singh Chautala, most other INLD MLAs and prominent leaders switched to the BJP, Congress or JJP.
The BJP won the Jind bypoll this year, taking its strength to 48 in the 90-member House.
Prominent among those whose fate will be known on Thursday include Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, former Congress CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, JJP leader Dushyant Chautala and INLD's Abhay Singh Chautala.
Haryana ministers Ram Bilas Sharma, Anil Vij, Capt Abhimanyu, O P Dhankar and Kavita Jain also contested for the BJP.
Apart from Hooda, other Congress bigwigs in the contest include Randeep Singh Surjewala, Kiran Choudhary, Ranbir Mahendra and Kuldeep Bishnoi. The BJP also fielded TikTok star Sonali Phogat and three sportspersons -- Babita Phogat, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sandeep Singh.
Led by Khattar, the BJP had set a target of winning 75 seats in the state, where the Congress is struggling to make a comeback.
The Aam Aadmi Party, the Loktantra Suraksha Party and Swaraj India also contested the elections, though none of them fought all 90 seats.
The BJP had made the nullification of Article 370 and nationalism major poll issues. It also told voters that the Khattar government had provided a clean and transparent administration.
The Congress and other opposition parties targeted the BJP government over unemployment, law and order and the condition of farmers.
The Maharashtra unit of BJP has made “victory” preparations at its headquarters in Mumbai for -- officials have given order for 5,000 'laddus' and erecting a huge screen to see the live coverage of counting. Orders for garlands are also placed, a party official said on Wednesday.
BJP workers have been asked to reach the party headquarters located near Mantralaya, or the state secretariat, in south Mumbai after 10 am on Thursday when the poll trends are expected to emerge.
Bypolls in 18 states
Counting will also take place for 51 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies across 18 states where bypolls were held on Monday. The BJP and its allies held nearly 30 of these Assembly seats, while the Congress had won 12 and the rest were with regional parties.
The bypolls are a battle of prestige for the parties as the results will not substantially change the seat arithmetic in the legislatures and will be more of a morale booster.
Among the states ruled by the BJP and its allies, counting will be held for the maximum 11 seats in Uttar Pradesh, followed by six in Gujarat, five in Bihar, four in Assam and two each in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The other states where bypolls were held are Punjab (four seats), Kerala (five seats), Sikkim (three seats), Rajasthan (two seats) and a seat each in Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, Meghalaya and Telangana.
Counting of votes will also be held in Satara (Maharashtra) and Samastipur (Bihar) Lok Sabha seats, which were held by the NCP and the LJP respectively.
In politically crucial UP, the polls are seen as a litmus test for the Yogi Adityanath government which has completed 30 months in office. The BJP currently has 302 members out of 403 in the Assembly.
It is a four-cornered contest with the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress fielding candidates on all 11 assembly seats.
In Rajasthan, it will be an opportunity for the ruling Congress to consolidate its thin majority if it is able wrest the two seats from the BJP and its ally RLP.
Of the 200 assembly seats in Rajasthan, the Congress has 106 MLAs, including the six who defected to the party from the BSP recently
In Sikkim, where bypolls were held for three seats, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang (Poklok Kamrang constituency) is among the candidates.
The strength of the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) is 18, while the BJP has 10 MLAs in the 32-member House. The Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) is left with one MLA after several others deserted the party.
Former Indian football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia is contesting from Gangtok on Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) ticket.
The BJP has fielded former Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor from Radhanpur in Gujarat where bypolls were held for six seats, four of which were with the BJP and two with the Congress.
A Congress win in Punjab bypolls will be seen as an endorsement of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's policies. Out of the four seats, the BJP, Shiromani Akali Dal, Aam Aadmi Party and Congress held one seat each.
Counting of votes will also be held for Khonsa West seat in Arunachal Pradesh, Naxal-hit Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh, Huzurnagar in Telangana , Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh and Shella in Meghalaya.
In Assam, three of the seats were with the BJP and one with the Congress.
The ruling JD(U) had won four seats in Bihar while one was with Congress. Assembly elections are due next year in the state and the bypoll result in the four seats could be seen as a vote on the performance of Nitish Kumar Government.
In the other northern states, results will be out for Pachhad and Dharamshala seats in Himachal Pradesh. Both were held by the ruling BJP earlier.
The ruling AIADMK and DMK are both looking for a moral edge with victory in Vikravandi and Nanguneri Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu.
In Kerala, three of the five Assembly seats where bypolls are being held were with the opposition Congress.
(With inputs from agencies)