The weaknesses of the opposition are sometimes as important as the strengths of an ally. In Maharashtra, the Congress made the most of both, a disunited opposition and a formidable alliance, and is set to form the government for a third consecutive term. To the credit of the Congress, despite discomforts and irritants, the party nurtured its alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party through good times and bad. But the latest win would not have been possible without the fragmentation of the opposition. The Shiv Sena, after the breaking away of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray, is no longer the same battle-hardened party. The Bharatiya Janata Party, still unable to grow out of the shadow of the Shiv Sena, and yet to recover fully from the debacle in the Lok Sabha election, remains dispirited and uninspiring. Thus, from the very beginning, it was a battle for the Congress-NCP to lose. The Shiv Sena was hoping that the supporters of the MNS would return to its fold on sensing that Raj Thackeray was no front-runner. But the MNS put up another impressive performance, this time picking up a few seats too. Whether Raj Thackeray’s party, with its politics mimicking that of the Shiv Sena, will have a future is difficult to say, but in the present election the MNS did spoil whatever chances its parent party had. While the Congress-NCP cannot boast of a blot-free record in governance, the combine at least managed to blunt any anti-incumbency sentiment. With Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan taking turns as Chief Minister, the government also managed to keep on a fresh sheen.
In Haryana, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda did just well enough to keep the Congress afloat. But, as expected, the vote share and the number of seats came down. Retaining power is always more difficult than regaining it, and Mr. Hooda could not have been expected to deliver much more than he did. In voter perception, the ruling coalition certainly seemed to have had more on the credit side of the governance ledger. The Indian National Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chautala did narrow the gap, without any help from its former ally, the BJP, but the Congress, with some support from others, has managed to get another term in office. In the smallest of the three States that went to the polls, Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress won decisively with a majority of its own. In all the three, however, the real challenge will be in meeting the rising expectations of the people. The Congress in the flush of its Lok Sabha victory appeared to have taken the States for granted and while there is reason for satisfaction, there is no ground for euphoria.