A day before campaigning ended on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood before a raucous audience in Thane city and told them he was there to rid Maharashtra of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The former allies who ruled the state for the last decade may have split, Modi said, but there is barely any difference between the two.

“NCP and Congress are hardly different,” Modi said, to cheers. “Their gotra [lineage] is the same. Their ideology is the same, their actions are the same, their motives are the same. And as long as they are there, Maharashtra will not see any change.”

What Modi didn’t acknowledge is that, at least in Maharashtra, the gotra of his own Bharatiya Janata Party isn't very different. Both the NCP-Congress combine and the BJP’s 25-year-old tie-up with the Shiv Sena collapsed so close to the deadline to file nominations for elections, each of the parties had to suddenly scramble to find candidates to contest all of the 288 seats in the state assembly.

Scrambling for candidates

The BJP, for example, contested 119 seats in the state in 2009. They now had to find candidates for 260 seats in the assembly, having set aside 28 for its smaller “mahayuti” allies. Similarly, the NCP only contested 114 seats in the previous elections, but is now going it alone in all the seats.

So you have stories like these: a Congress minister jumping to the BJP the day the government is dissolved; or the BJP candidate who was supposed to get that ticket joining the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

Or take Tasgaon, where the NCP’s ex-home minister RR Patil is up against a former fellow in government, Ajit Ghorpade. Ghorpade made waves a month when he switched over to the BJP at a meeting in Tasgaon in the presence of union minister Nitin Gadkari, who has built his own team over the last few years through Congress defections. With Ghorpade in attendance, Gadkari went on to make a blistering attack on the governance of the NCP-Congress combine over the last decade.

There are also the journeymen Gavit brothers, who seem to have been a part, at some time or another, of all the major parties in the state. This time around three of the brothers are contesting from two different parties, and none has stayed with the one they represented the last time around.

NCP is biggest victim

The NCP, which has dealt with a number of defections over the past few months, thanks in part to internal leadership squabbles, appears to have been the worst victim. The BJP seems to be the biggest beneficiary. It was the junior partner in its alliance with the Shiv Sena, but the immense popularity of the prime minister in Maharashtra has convinced the party to expand its horizons.

BJP President Amit Shah openly told the state unit to welcome other leaders to the party, as long as they are not tainted by criminal allegations or convictions. Even this dictum has not been followed – former NCP minister Baban Pachpute, now in the BJP fold, has misappropriation charges against him. Close to a hundred candidates of the BJP’s 260 have spent time elsewhere.

This calls to mind an old Uttar Pradesh phrase, “aaya Ram gaya Ram”, now he comes and now he’s gone. But the Maharashtra BJP prefers a different Ram reference to explain what they’re doing. “Lanka dahan karne ke liye kuch Vibhishan ko bhi sath lena padtha hai,”  state BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis said ‒ to defeat Ravana’s Lanka, Ram had not choice but to take the help of Ravana’s brother Vibhishan0.