The poll results indicate a reversal of fortunes for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
With 60 seats this time against 71 won in 2004, it will now have to play the second fiddle to the Congress, which has emerged as the single largest party with 80 seats.
Last time, the NCP could even bully the Congress into handing over the most important portfolios, such as finance, power and home. The Congress got to keep only the chief ministerial post.
“The NCP can no longer bargain for important portfolios this time,” said Aroon Tikekar, veteran journalist.
“The party won the seats because people voted for continuity, not because it performed well. It could have fared better, but it was plagued by infighting,” he said.
As Tikekar pointed out, the NCP, known as the party of sugar barons, had the highest number of rebels contesting the elections. That is one of the reasons why it could not improve its score even in its bastion, western Maharashtra, where it won 20 seats against 25 in 2004.
The infighting even cost senior NCP leaders and Rural Development Minister Vijay Sinh Mohite Patil his seat.
The NCP was also hit in the urban areas, with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) wining over a large chunk of its young voters. The MNS and the NCP won 8 seats each in the Mumbai-Thane belt.
“The MNS factor has hurt not just the Sena, but also the NCP. Sharad Pawar (NCP chief) admitted as much,” said Surendra Jondhale, political analyst. He said the NCP might claim secular credentials, but it continued to be seen as a “party of Marathas”.
The NCP leadership, however, put up a brave face, saying they were satisfied with their performance. NCP spokesperson Govindrao Adik said, “We contested 112 seats and won 63. In 2004, we had contested 124 and won 71. Our performance is satisfactory. We could have done better.”