MUMBAI: As of the counting of votes for the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly is set to begin, 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.
What exit polls say
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.
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.
Counting will be held across 288 counting centres at 269 locations in Maharashtra. Trends are expected to be available around noon and final results will begin pouring in around 3 PM.
BJP had fielded 280, BSP 260, CPI 34, CPM 19, Congress 287, NCP 278 and Shiv Sena 282 while MNS had fielded 219.
A total of 4119 candidates contested the poll. Of the 288 constituencies, including 36 constituencies in Mumbai, 234 are general, 29 reserved for scheduled castes and 25 for scheduled tribes.