After its poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did some smart regrouping in the Assembly polls.

The party, which lost three seats in its bastion of Western Maharashtra in the general elections, bounced back, winning 24 seats in the region.

In Marathwada, the NCP bagged five out of the six seats in Beed, a BJP stronghold. Overall, the Congress-NCP combined managed to get 30 seats, eight of them in Nanded district alone.

In Western Maharashtra, the Swabhimani Paksh’s Raju Shetti, who won the Hatkanangale Lok Sabha seat, fell out with Sadashivrao Mandlik, rebel MP from Kolhapur. This worked to the NCP’s advantage. NCP president Sharad Pawar was banking on this discord so that his party could fare better.

In Marathwada too, he secured the support of Suresh Dhas, formerly with the BJP and now with the NCP, and won the Ashti seat.

While the overall 62-seat tally of the NCP is lower than the 71 it won in 2004, the party has achieved a modicum of success and repaired some of the damage it suffered in the Lok Sabha polls. It contested 114 seats, while the Congress fielded candidates in 174 constituencies to win 82.

The Congress, too, improved its performance and took advantage of a weak Opposition, which was plagued by division and which lacked a strong agenda to counter the ruling alliance.

As a result, in the farm suicide country of Yavatmal, the Congress-NCP managed to wangle six out of the seven seats. Though 12 Ministers lost this election, it is more a reflection of rebellion and of their lack of performance.

United front

The Congress-NCP presented a united front, releasing the manifesto together and conducting joint campaigns, including some high profile meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

The rivals in the Congress, Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Maharashtra Revenue Minister and Konkan strongman Narayan Rane, campaigned together to make a public show of unity, which the party feels went a long way to win the people’s confidence.

This election was, however, a setback to Mr. Rane. For, while he won from Kudal, two of his men lost the Kankavli and Rajapur seats. Mr. Rane managed to woo and get the Shiv Sena rebel Sada Sarvankar, onboard the Congress at the last minute. But the move came a cropper with Mr. Sarvankar losing to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Nitin Sardesai in Mahim.

The Opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party, with 44 and 46 seats, is down in the dumps. The Sena’s Leader of the Opposition Ramdas Kadam lost in Guhagar and it is faced with the prospect of relinquishing the post to the BJP. That is one of the ongoing tussles now in the saffron alliance.

Sena chief Bal Thackeray is highly disturbed by the results. In an editorial in the party organ Saamna on Saturday, he castigated the “Marathi Manoos for betraying” the party.

While internal crisis led to a lacklustre BJP campaign, the Sena’s electioneering was led by executive president Uddhav Thackeray, who drew huge crowds. Mr. Bal Thackeray, who did not campaign due to ill health, was to address a victory rally. That was never to be.

The ruling alliance, which in a record of sorts has made it topower for the third time, faces a huge challenge — farm suicides, social inequalities, unemployment, power cuts, drought, and rising prices being perennial issues.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s loan waiver and the State’s own package are being seen as the reason why the Congress has regained the farmer’s confidence even as suicides continue in a depressing indication of the agrarian crisis. Poor rains and a faltering soyabean crop could make things worse in the coming months.

Job losses down the years have mounted, according to the State’s own Economic Survey and the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme leaves much to be desired.

The alliance has done well in extremely poor and backward regions like Marathwada, which is also beset by farm suicides. This is an opportunity for it to work for a change there.