Once again the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) came to the aid of the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance, enabling all seven of their candidates to win the biennial elections to the Legislative Council on Thursday. One of the Shiv Sena candidates, Anil Parab, was defeated.

The Congress and the NCP fought the Legislative Council elections separately. The Congress had fielded three candidates, Hussain Dalwai, Dipti Choudhari and Sanjay Dutt apart from Vijay Sawant who contested as an Independent with the party's backing.

The Congress has 82 seats in the Assembly apart from one nominee. Each Council candidate needed 27 votes in the first preference to ensure a victory. The party claimed it had the support of 17 Independents. The shortfall was filled in by the MNS and others.

The three Congress candidates and three NCP candidates swept through with the minimum 27 votes in the first round of counting itself while Mr. Sawant had some anxious moments and had to wait for a few more rounds.

The BJP fielded two candidates, Dhananjay Munde, nephew of party leader Gopinath Munde, who won in the second round, and Shobhatai Phadnavis who scraped through.

While Shiv Sena's Anil Parab lost the election, Diwakar Raote won in the second round.

The Congress was confident of the support of the 13 MNS MLAs and the four suspended MLAs of the party were also allowed to vote on Thursday.

The NCP had fielded three candidates. Its party strength was 62 which meant it needed support from Independents and other smaller parties. The NCP celebrated its 12{+t}{+h} foundation day with the victories of Prakash Binsale, former minister Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar and Vinayak Mete.

Congress sources said the MNS had agreed to vote for both the Congress and the NCP and divide the votes between the two parties, with six for the Congress and seven for the NCP. Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said, “The MNS votes probably did not go to the Sena and the BJP, it came to us.”

Tough battle

The Council elections saw a hard-fought battle with the major parties wooing the 53 members of the Assembly from smaller parties, the MNS, and Independents. Horse-trading had reached a peak with rough estimates putting the expenditure for buying out MLAs at Rs.60 crore to Rs.100 crore. The MNS, waiting for its leader Raj Thackeray to return from abroad, took its time to take a decision and voted just an hour before the time was over. The only Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA did not vote.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, triumphant after the elections, said that the Congress had not asked the MNS for its support. “I don't know for whom they voted,” he said. “Our priority was to get the three official candidates elected and get Mr. Sawant elected on the basis of surplus votes.” He denied there was horse-trading or anything of the sort and said that he favoured an open ballot system to ensure transparency.

Gidwani withdraws

Earlier in the day, six candidates, two each from the Congress, and the NCP and one each from the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha after the withdrawal of Kanhaiyalal Gidwani's nomination on Thursday.

Mr. Gidwani (Congress) withdrew from the fray following a request from the NCP. Those elected were: Vijay Darda and Avinash Pande of the Congress; Ishwarlal Jain and Tariq Anwar of the NCP; Piyush Goyal and Sanjay Raut of the BJP and the Shiv Sena respectively.

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