Cong ups tally, pawar show flops in state

The Congress improved its tally from 13 to 17 in Maharashtra but every other party, including its UPA partner the NCP, failed to retain the number of seats won in the 2004 elections. The NCP bagged eight seats (against ten in the last polls), the Shiv Sena secured 11 seats (12 in 2004) and the BJP won nine (against 13 earlier). The result gives the Congress-NCP combine a tally of 25 from Maharashtra, with the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance getting 20.

The results promptly altered political equations, with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar—who was planning to pitch for prime ministership with the help of the Third Front and the Shiv Sena—saying it was the Congress’s privilege to choose the PM.

What came as a surprise was the commendable Congress-NCP showing despite adverse factors like the crippling power cuts—lasting up to 14 hours daily in many parts of the state—and suicides in Vidarbha by as many as 5,216 farmers. Five-time Congress MP Gurudas Kamat, who won another term from Mumbai North-West, said, “If the trailer is so exciting, the main film will be even more interesting. We will sweep the assembly polls.’’

The NCP attributed its poor performance to intra-party fighting—a major reason could have been that Marathas did not back it whole-heartedly because of the party’s failure to provide reservations for the community. For the Sena-BJP alliance, the MNS was the main spoiler.

Twelve MNS candidates secured more than one lakh votes each in the keenly contested elections.

Interestingly, three Independents will also be going to the Lok Sabha from the state—this is the first time that so many independents have won in Maharashtra since the state’s inception in 1960. The three independent MPs are Baliram Jadhav (representing the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi from Palghar in Thane district), Raju Shetty (of the Swabhiman Shetkari Sanghatana from Hatkanangale) and Sadashiv Mandlik (rebel NCP candidate and sitting MP from Kolhapur who was denied a ticket). The victory of Mandlik, a wrestler, is significant because he had publicly taken on Sharad Pawar in his campaign and levelled serious charges against him.

The Shiv Sena-BJP received a huge setback in urban Maharashtra, including Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik, which were considered its strongholds, although it retained seats in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The clash between state BJP president Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Gopinath Munde had resulted in a vertical split in the party organisation. Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray’s open flirting with Pawar in the run-up to the polls had also severely strained Sena-BJP ties.

Among the prominent state winners were Sharad Pawar (Madha), Sushilkumar Shinde (Solapur), Praful Patel (Gondia-Bhandara), Supriya Sule (Baramati), Mukul Wasnik (Ramtek), Gopinath Munde (Beed) and Vilas Muttemwar (Nagpur). The shock losers were ministers A R Antulay and Suryakanta Patil and RPI leaders Ramdas Athawale, Prakash Ambedkar and Rajendra Gavai.

The Congress was happy to win two high-profile seats in Marathwada (Nanded, home of chief minister Ashok Chavan, and Latur, home turf of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh). Sitting Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi won the Pune seat despite stiff opposition from his adversaries within the party and attempts at sabotage by certain NCP leaders.

Ashok Chavan, who had promised Congress president Sonia Gandhi that Maharashtra would give her a large chunk of seats, said, “People have supported the Congress because of its performance at the Centre and in the state. Voters appreciated the way the state government responded to the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai and the relief packages worked out for farmers to ward off any further suicides.’’ Pawar agreed that the waiver of farm loans and the UPA’s development agenda had helped in a major way.

Chavan was non-committal about the pre-poll alliance with the NCP. “We will review the outcome before taking any decision. The final decision will be taken by the party high command.’’

MPCC president Manikrao Thakare had complained that NCP leaders had not worked for Congress nominees in ten Lok Sabha constituencies. The Congress had improved its tally but was going to take a closer look at the situation in each and every constituency, he said.

State NCP president R R Patil admitted that many NCP candidates had had to face rebellions and, in some cases, aspirants who had been denied tickets had not been fully engaged in campaigning for the party.

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