Coasts to power in Maharashtra for third consecutive term and sweeps Arunachal Pradesh, but its gamble in Haryana failed to pay off when it fell short of majority.

It was advantage Congress all the way as results came in on Thursday for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh.

Standing at midpoint in a house of 288, the party was set to form a government with decade-old ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in Maharashtra and it swept Arunachal Pradesh winning 42 of the 60 seats. But in Haryana, seen as the best bet for the Congress ahead of the polls, it was stuck five short of the bare majority mark, creating some uncertainly as to who would be able to put the required numbers together.

In Haryana

A surprisingly strong performance by the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana – it scored 31 against the Congress’ 40 in a house of 90 – has dealt a body blow to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who advanced the polls in the State by six months on the claim that he would lead his party to a thumping victory.

Mr. Hooda’s less-than-expected performance has activated critics in the Congress who have already begun questioning the wisdom of allowing him a second tenure as Chief Minister.

However, Congress leaders were quick to point out that it was no mean achievement that the party was set to return to power in a State – they are hoping to get the backing of some “others” – that has denied this to any party in three decades.

Likewise in Maharashtra, where the ruling combine has not only improved on its 2004 tally but also set a record of sorts by posting a hat-trick – the Congress-NCP alliance is now the only other coalition after the six-term Left Front in West Bengal to return to power for the third time running.

Jolt to BJP

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the results have come as a second big jolt after the defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party had no hope whatsoever in Arunachal Pradesh where about half a dozen of its MLAs in the last Assembly had left it and more recently a former MP, Kiran Rijiju, crossed over to the Congress. In Haryana, too, its aim was limited to saving what remains of its base after its humiliating performance in the Lok Sabha polls and preparing for the next round in 2014.

But it was in the results from Maharashtra that the party was deeply disappointed. “We expected that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would be about 20 seats short of the ruling coalition’s score. But the gap is closer to 50,” a party leader from the State said, adding that the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena had eaten into the support base of the Shiv Sena.

Party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, conceded victory to the Congress. “We accept the results with all humility,” he said. And, party leader M.A. Naqvi’s comment, blaming the electronic voting machines, was dismissed by the party as “his personal view.”

PTI report adds:

Pawar rules out merger

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar ruled out merger of his party with the Congress on Thursday, but said he would extend all support to its ally.

“[Merger is] out of the question... [but] we are ready to assist them [Congress]. We have no issues about leadership, they have the numbers,” Mr. Pawar told a TV channel.

“It is his personal view,” Mr. Pawar shot back when reminded of Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh’s comment about NCP-Congress merger. “We will cooperate with the Congress.”

“Don’t forget we contested 12 seats less this time,” he said. “Also, I surrendered the Chief Ministership last time. The media raise such issues [of merger] for headlines.”

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