New Delhi, Sept. 18: The Congress-led alliance in Maharashtra appears to hold a thin edge over the Shiv Sena-BJP combine in the run-up to the Assembly election scheduled next month.
A pre-election opinion poll conducted for The Telegraph and STAR News by AC Nielsen across the state has projected 148 seats ' four more than the halfway figure of 144 ' for the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party partnership.
If the +/- 3 per cent margin of error of the survey is taken into account, the race becomes extremely close and a minor swing could change fortunes. The survey, based on a sample size of approximately 16,000 respondents, was conducted between September 5 and 15.
The Congress and the NCP, which joined hands after the 1999 poll, are projected to perform well in Mumbai city and maintain the alliance's overwhelming superiority in NCP chief Sharad Pawar's western Maharashtra bastion.
The Vidarbha region, where the Congress was virtually wiped out in the May Lok Sabha polls, continues to be a problem area for the party.
The projection of the marginal lead comes at a time when the Congress central leadership has been edgy about the party's prospects in the first crucial poll test after the formation of the government at the Centre.
The Opposition BJP and Shiv Sena, which together won 25 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats four months ago, have been hoping to consolidate the advantage. But, according to the survey, the Opposition combine is projected to win 128 seats.
The respondents have picked the beleaguered chief minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, as the most popular candidate for the chief minister's job. Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav has an 8 per cent rating on this count.