MUBAI: With less then 24 hours to go for the results to be out in one of the most keenly-watched assembly elections in Maharashtra, major parties are keeping their cards close to the chest as most exit polls projected a hung House.
While former saffron allies -- BJP and Shiv Sena are dismissing suggestions about coming together once again, claiming they would get an absolute majority, NCP led by wily Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar has exuded confidence it will play a major role in government formation.
Congress, predicted to lose heavily, is in a sulk with senior party leaders attacking former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for the "self-goal" over his remarks on three of his predecessors under scanner in the Adarsh scam and how acting against them would have "decimated" the party, avoiding making claims about being voted to power for a fourth straight term.
A day after apparently going soft on BJP by suggesting there should not be "bitterness any more", Shiv Sena today claimed that the party will secure an "absolute majority" and not need support from BJP.
"Maharashtra will get a one-party government, a stable government led by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Our fight in this election was against BJP as Congress and NCP were like dead snakes.
"We had a relation of love and emotional bond with BJP. Hearts break when an ideological bond breaks. We want BJP to emerge as a strong opposition party. We will like to work together with them after forming a Shiv Sena government," party spokesman Sanjay Raut said.
Despite the apparent bravado, Shiv Sena continues to be a part of the ruling NDA at the Centre with its lone member in the Union Cabinet Anant Geete not been asked to step down either by his own leadership or by BJP, a move many liken to the door being kept ajar for possible a reunion in Maharashtra.
"There is no need to have arguments or bitterness any more. Hearts have been broken. Though it is difficult to mend broken hearts, Maharashtra needs stability and peace. It is better that we wait for the day of counting," Sena had said in an editorial in its mouthpiece 'Saamana' yesterday, hinting at a possible reconciliation.
Raut, a Sena MP, also spoke about his party's differences with BJP over creation of Vidarbha state, a cause championed by the latter but vehemently opposed by the former even while they were together.
"We will have to think over Vidarbha statehood. Our views may differ with other political parties but when you emerge stronger, many support you post-poll," he said when asked if taking support from NCP was an option.
Sharad Pawar, who has friends across the political spectrum, had just before the polls softened his stance toward the Shiv Sena.
Noting that Uddhav Thackeray had taken pains to build the party after the death of his father Bal Thackeray, Pawar said, "He (Uddhav) toured the state to expand the party's base. The Shiv Sena had a role to play in BJP's success in Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra."
Pawar, despite ideological differences with Bal Thackeray, maintained good personal equation with him.
After the bitter break up with NCP, Congress had accused Sharad Pawar-led party of trying to get close to BJP, which had just called off its 25-year-old alliance with Shiv Sena.
Though both BJP and NCP had trashed the talk of coming together, the remark by senior party leader and Pawar's right hand man Praful Patel that "NCP will play a major role in government formation" is being seen by poll watchers as an indication of the party's willingness to explore a post-poll alliance with new partners.
Maharashtra BJP president Devendra Fadnavis, a frontrunner for chief ministership if the party is voted to power, discounted the need for the party to look for fresh allies, saying "I am absolutely confident that BJP will get absolute majority."
MNS leader Raj Thackeray, a self-confessed former admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had while stumping shown a softer side for estranged cousin Uddhav when he blamed BJP for the split and admitted he had approached the Shiv Sena leader for an alliance but there was no response from the other side.
Raj Thackeray, political analysts believe, could be amenable to aligning with both Shiv Sena and BJP in the event of a fractured mandate.
While the exit polls conducted by 'Today's Chanakya' has projected a clear majority for BJP, ABP-Nielson showed it reaching the half-way mark of 144 in the 288-member assembly.
C-voter's poll predicted BJP to get 129 seats, while the one telecast on IndiaTV gave it between 124 and 134.
All surveys said Shiv Sena will emerge as the second largest party getting between 56 and 77 seats, while projection for Congress ranged between 40 to 48, NCP 34 to 41 and for MNS five to nine.