Sharad Pawar may just have pulled the Opposition out of near irrelevance in Maharashtra. The results show that it seems that Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has much to cheer about, with the NCP winning more seats than it did in the last assembly polls.
According to the Election Commission of India website, the NCP, which had won 41 seats in 2014, has secured 48 seats and leading in another six.
The results also show that the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine’s poll strategy of ‘importing’ NCP heavyweights in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada has not quite paid off. NCP led in most such seats. Although Pawar’s party saw the largest number of defections, his election rallies were the most talked about during the campaign leg of the elections.
In the run up to the polls, the Enforcement Directorate had registered a case against Pawar in an alleged money-laundering matter, but the 79-year-old’s strategy to run an election on how he was being “targetted” by a vindictive ruling regime seems to have found a connect with the voters.
The other big takeaway for the NCP was that it has dislodged ally Congress as the principal Opposition party in the state. Congress, which was in third place and had won 41 seats in 2014, has won only 35 seats this time and leading in another nine and hasrelegated to the fourth position behind the BJP, Sena, and NCP.
With Maharashtra set for another fractured mandate — the last time any party won a clear majority in the state was way back in 1985 — all eyes are also on Pawar’s next move. After the 2014 poll results, the NCP had initially offered unconditional support to the BJP, which the latter had rejected. Most of the NCP heavyweights including former ministers Ajit Pawar, Hasan Mushrif, Dilip Walse Patil, and NCP’s leader of opposition (legislative council) Dhananjay Munde were ahead in the respective constituencies.
Ironically, NCP’s former MP Udayanraje Bhosle, who had walked over to the BJP, necessitating a Lok Sabha bypoll in Satara, was trailing NCP’s Shriniwas Patil in the initial rounds.