Maharashtra: NCP-Congress successfully checks anti-incumbency

Mumbai | Updated: Oct 18 2004, 05:30am hrs
Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar has silenced his rivals, folowing the emergence of his Nationalist Congress Party as the single largest group in the 288-member state assembly. On the other hand, for the ageing Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, Saturdays poll debacle for the Sena-BJP alliance has come as a rude shock.

In the close contest, Mr Pawar has emerged a winner, while his arch-rival, the ailing tiger, has failed to tighten his grip. The voters have preferred Mr Pawars politics for their development and rejected the politics of hatred. The rebellion within the Sena and also in the BJP, over distribution of poll tickets, has spoiled their party.

However, contrary to expectations, a largescale rebellion staged by seniors from the Congress and NCP failed largely to affect the performance of that bloc, which included the RPI, too. And, the Mayavati factor did not work at all, with the dalits and backward classes going for the Congress-NCP-RPI alliance.

Mr Pawars initiative to strike a deal with the Congress and RPI, despite strong opposition from within and especially from the Congress, has worked.

The saffron parties, which hoped to encash the anti-incumbency factor and the underperformance of the Congress-led Democratic Front (DF) regime, could not tranaslate the common citizens resentment into votes. The keenly-contested assembly polls were the first slugfest between the Congress and BJP combinations after the United Progressive Alliance came to power at Delhi, dethroning the BJP-led, National Democratic Alliance.

The anti-incumbency factor was blunted cleverly by the DF, which announced packages for various regions and sections of society, defeating the opposition camps designs. The DF government, which initially attacked Mr Thackeray for his announcement about supplying free power to farmers and waiving agricultural loans and interest, imitated his strategy.

Similarly, the whirlwing tour of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose image had got a boost after she renounced the Prime Ministers post, appear to have compensated the enti-incumbwency factor. Mr Pawars move to keep aside the foreign origin issue of Ms Gandhi, helped both parties take on the saffron alliance.

Despite his ill-health, Mr Pawar extensively toured the state, canvassing for party nominees. However, Mr Thackeray, who has been a star campaigner, and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had to cancel their election rallies on account of ill-health. It severely demoralised the saffron party leaders and workers. Though Mr Thackeray addressed two rallies, in Thane and in north-central Mumbai, in Mr Vajpayees presence, this wasnt enough. Clearly, Mr Thackerays ridiculing of Ms Gandhi and Mr Pawar went against the saffron alliance, as the voters didnt accept these abuses.

And then, Mr Thackerays last-minute call for Marathi manus failed to enthuse voters from India;s commercial capital. His outburst against Muslims from Bangladesh whove been residing in Mumbai hurt non-Maharashtrians, who preferred to vote for the Congress-led alliance.

It remains to be seen if Mr Pawar and his party stake claim for the chief ministers post. Mr Pawar has been consistently saying the Congress, which had contested 157 seats, has the prerogative of selecting the CM. It is to be seen what the Congress will do now, as it has got a seat less than the NCP.