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Fighting fit: A Cong revival

After its best showing in nearly 20 years, will the Grand Old Party reclaim the state? Shailesh Gaikwad reports.

mumbai Updated: Sep 17, 2009 00:58 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad

Not even Sharad Pawar can argue with the statistics.

Otherwise known as a hard bargainer, Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party has already conceded five more seats to the Congress, its alliance partner in the state.

And that comes as no surprise.

In its strongest showing since 1991, the Congress swept the national polls held five months ago.

In Maharashtra, the party won 17 of 48 seats, up from 13 in the 2004 election. And it was leading in 82 Assembly segments — against the NCP’s 71.

This despite anti-incumbency sentiment, the economic downturn and massive security breaches that ended in serial train blasts in 2006 and a four-day terror siege last November.

On Wednesday, as representatives of both parties began working out the details of a seat-sharing agreement ahead of the October 13 state election, the NCP capitulated and lowered its share from 124 seats in the 2004 election to 119.

The Congress is trying to push that number further down, to 114 or 115, sources said.

“The victory in the Lok Sabha election has given the Congress confidence,” said political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.

“Its strategists are sure that the party will regain lost ground in Maharashtra, a crucial state.”

And reducing the NCP’s share is the only way the Congress can grow in Maharashtra — a state it has ruled for most of the 50 years since its inception.

“After Uttar Pradesh, where it did well in the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress has now set its sights on Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra,” said Kumar.

In UP, the Congress contested alone and won 21 Assembly seats.

While that gutsy strategy paid off — and left party workers demanding that the Congress go it alone in Maharashtra too — political analysts agree with the party’s top brass: It’s too soon to sever that cord.

“In Maharashtra, our greatest advantage is the weak Opposition,” said Congress functionary Anant Gadgil. “The party workers are keen to snap ties with the NCP, but it may be counterproductive as Lok Sabha trends could change in a state election.”