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Since 1st March, 1999
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Raj + inept BJP = Cong raj
Helping hands in Maharashtra

New Delhi, Oct. 22: Raj Thackeray has helped the Congress-NCP in the Maharashtra polls but the BJP-Shiv Sena cannot blame him alone for their defeat, a constituency-wise break-up of the results shows.

The ruling alliance has won 25 seats with fewer votes than the combined tally of the main Opposition coalition and Raj’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in these constituencies.

The Congress-NCP total, which had just touched the halfway mark of 144 in results and trends available by late evening, would have fallen below 120 without these seats. The BJP-Sena, hovering around 90 seats this evening, would have reached 115 had the MNS votes in these seats gone to the alliance.

But even if the BJP-Sena had bagged these seats, and also the 13 that the MNS was winning late evening, the Opposition combine would still have been short by over 15 seats.

Officially, the Congress and the NCP are claiming that the UPA government’s performance at the Centre played a key role in their victory. The farm loan waiver — offered by both the Centre and the state government — was crucial, they say.

Recent poll successes have also helped the Congress, in particular, to revitalise its organisational structure in parts of Maharashtra that witnessed saffron inroads in recent years — such as Vidharba, traditionally a Congress stronghold.

But Congress and NCP leaders admitted that the BJP-Sena’s failure to project itself as an alternative may have been the biggest reason for the ruling coalition’s victory.

While Congress and NCP workers campaigned enthusiastically across the state, exuberant after their success in the recent Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-Sena electoral machine appeared de-motivated.

As for Raj, he has predictably hurt the Sena-BJP the most in the Mumbai and Thane city regions, where the Congress and the NCP would have lost 14 of the 22 seats they eventually won had the MNS not eaten into BJP-Sena votes. The saffron alliance has won just 12 of the 36 seats that constitute Mumbai and Thane cities, while the MNS has won seven.

Sena leaders admit that it was only in the Mumbai-Pune-Nashik urban “triangle” that the MNS hurt them severely.

The personal feud between Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav and cousin Raj was used by the ruling coalition throughout the campaign to argue that the Thackerays would be “incompetent” as the state’s rulers.

“The Congress-NCP argument that the cousins are too busy fighting each other to rule the state appears to have hurt us a bit in (attracting) ambivalent voters in this region,” a senior Mumbai-based Sena leader said.

But the biggest loss for the BJP-Sena — within the larger politics of the state — cannot be explained away either through statistics or through the Raj effect.

The Marathwada region, which the saffron alliance has built over the past decade as its fortress in the state, has unceremoniously rejected the BJP-Sena. The BJP, which used its leader Gopinath Munde’s Other Backward Classes credentials to build its stronghold here, has suffered a virtual rout, winning just one of the 48 seats on offer.

The Sena hasn’t fared much better, winning just seven seats in this region, while the Congress (18) and the NCP (13) have each won more seats here than in the Mumbai-Thane region.

The MNS won a seat in Aurangabad — a part of Marathwada — but spoilt the BJP-Sena’s chances in only four other seats here.

In Vidarbha, the BJP-Sena failed to capitalise on the farm suicide-fuelled anger against the government, which was accentuated by the poor rainfall this year. Although the saffron alliance has not suffered a rout here, it has won fewer seats than the Congress-NCP.

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