At the end of an exhilarating day of the counting of votes for the elections to the Maharashtra assembly, both Congress and Nationalist Congress Party workers sat back with jaws dropping in shocked surprise. Both parties had seemed decimated at the start of the election process after the BJP had poached most of their stalwarts days ahead of the elections. However, in a troubled 18-year-old relationship, both parties were in such dire straits equally that there was no desire left in either to bring the other down. Instead, Sharad Pawar, the old warhorse, who refused to cede to the inimical forces out to destroy him and his family personally, put on his armour and waded into the battlefield, leading the charge with equal gusto for both the Congress and the NCP. Congress workers followed his cue and guidelines and the results are there for all to see.
Of course, the NCP surged ahead of Congress but it had a strong leader in Pawar who knows the state like the back of his hand and focussed on local issues without allowing himself to be distracted by the BJP leaders’ personal targeting of him and his family. But the Congress, considering it had no local leadership worth writing home about and was faction-ridden particularly in Mumbai, beat the odds to better its 2014 tally by three-four more seats leading in 47 at the time of writing. Together the NCP and Congress along with smaller allies leveled with the BJP, which was struggling to keep to three digits and the NCP was level with the Shiv Sena quite on its own.
The results have justified the faith Congress president Sonia Gandhi put in Sharad Pawar by offering his party 125 seats out of 288 despite its complete depletion after defections to the BJP. When some state Congress leaders objected, she is reported to have asked them, “ Do we have anyone in Maharashtra to match Pawar's stature who can help us win as many seats as he can?”
Pawar kept good faith with that trust in him and today both Congress and NCP workers are looking at the seats of both parties as their own. Even Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter, admitted that for the first time there was no heartburn between workers of the two parties. And Pawar made it clear that the allies will stick together with this stunning mandate to rebuild their bases and gain power in the state at the next elections.
Most Congress stalwarts like former chief ministers Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan won their seats and so did NCP stalwart Chhagan Bhujbal, perhaps the first victim of the use of central agencies against political rivals by the ruling dispensation. A major upset was the defeat of Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, of the BJP by her cousin Dhananjay Munde fighting on a ticket of the NCP. She was a minister and chief ministerial aspirant.
But the sweetest victory of this poll season came for Pawar personally, not in the win of his great-nephew Rohit Pawar but in that of his close supporter Shriniwas Patil from Satara for a byelection to the Satara Lok Sabha constituency. The by-election was necessitated by the defection of NCP MP Udayan Raje Bhosale to the BJP barely three months after the general elections. Bhosale is a direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the BJP had hoped that factor combined with its earlier wooing of Marathas with reservations in government jobs would swing the seat in their favour. This was the seat Pawar campaigned for soaked to the bone in the pouring rain and that combined with the manner in which Bhosale and the BJP had taken the voters for granted (both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah campaigned here furiously ) seems to have turned voters away from both royals and the ruling party.
The BJP and Shiv Sena are all set to form the government but the election clearly belonged to Sharad Pawar, And held out hope to the Congress of a possible comeback in the near future,