Fighting anti-incumbency and riding on its success in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) touched the halfway mark of 144 of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, counting for which was held on Thursday.

The Mumbai terror attack, which was not an issue, rising prices, the drought, power cuts and farm suicides apparently did not come in the way for the Congress, which bagged 82 seats, while the NCP won 62, way above expectations. In 2004, the Congress won 69 seats while its ally, the NCP, won 71.

While the Congress-NCP has a simple majority to form a government, about 15 victorious rebels have been asked to support the alliance, party sources confirmed.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) played spoiler in some seats as expected and opened its account with 13 seats, five of them in Mumbai. The Congress-NCP victory has spelt doom for the Opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 44 and 46 seats, way below their 2004 tallies.

The race for the Chief Minister’s post began even before the results were announced, with Industries Minister Narayan Rane and others going to meet party leaders in New Delhi. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Manikrao Thakre made it clear at a press conference after the results that the Chief Minister would be from the Congress. There is no question of sharing the post as suggested by some NCP leaders.

All the elected MLAs are likely to come to Mumbai by Friday evening and some observers from the Congress high command and office bearers are expected on Saturday.

Congress, NCP do better than expected

The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did better than its own expectations in Maharashtra and even Union Minister for Power and State campaign chief Sushil Kumar Shinde admitted that there were apprehensions if the myriad issues in the State would go against the alliance. Both parties were in a mood of high celebration with crackers being burst and drums pounding victory.

While Chief Minister Ashok Chavan won from Bhokar with a margin of over one lakh votes, other winners include the former State Home Minister R. R. Patil of the NCP, the present Home Minister Jayant Patil, Revenue Minister Patangrao Kadam, Industries Minister Narayan Rane and Finance Minister Dilip Walse Patil. Among the major losers were State Minister Sunil Deshmukh who rebelled against the President’s son and lost in Amravati. He is among the 12 Ministers in the State who lost this election.

For the third time in succession, the ruling alliance has come to power in a State riddled with farm suicides, power cuts, price rise and terror strikes. As many leaders have said, anti-incumbency is not a factor here. At a press conference after the results, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, State Industries Minister Narayan Rane, Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh presented a show of unity. To questions, both Mr. Shinde and Mr. Deshmukh said they were happy at the Centre and were not keen on returning to head the State. The high command will take a decision on the Chief Minister was all Mr. Chavan was willing to say.

While it was generally expected that the ruling alliance would be ahead of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, and that rebels would play a major role in forming the government, that scenario is not likely, much to the relief of the Congress. However, over 20 rebels won in the State denting the chances of major parties.

The Congress gained all over the State, notably in Marathwada where the alliance won 29 seats as opposed to seven in 2004. The Sena-BJP alliance which considers Marathwada as its stronghold, got a mere nine seats.

Rebellion cost the Sena dear in Aurangabad and Pradeep Jaiswal who stood as a rebel from Aurangabad central triumphed over the others. The Congress-NCP alliance registered an impressive performance with wins in Nanded and Aurangabad apart from winning five seats in Beed, a BJP stronghold and Gopinath Munde’s stamping ground. Despite the large number of rebels in western Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP combine managed to win 38 of the 70 seats leaving the Sena-BJP alliance behind with 20 seats.

In suicide country Vidarbha, the Congress won six seats in Yavatmal and the alliance won 28 seats, around the same number it had won in 2004, while the Sena-BJP was close behind with 27 seats. The party said its pro farmers’ policies had won it much confidence.

In the Konkan, the Sena got its biggest setback with the defeat of Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ramdas Kadam from Guhagar. The BJP had denied a ticket to Dr. Vinay Natu who stood as a rebel in Guhagar and it lost to the NCP’s Bhaskar Jadhav.

Of the 15 seats in the Konkan, the Congress-NCP alliance won seven, while the BJP-Sena alliance won five and the Republican Left Democratic Front (RLDF) won three, thanks to one of its constituents, the Peasants and Workers party (PWP) allying with the Sena in Raigad district.

The RLDF too opened its account and won a total of eleven seats. Apart from the three in Raigad district, it won in Sangola, Bhiwandi (two seats), Shivajinagar, Mankhurd, Ahmedpur and Navapur and even toppled State Minister Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, from Pandharpur. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), an RLDF constituent, won its only seat from Dahanu.