Future tense for Cong-NCP

The outcomes of the statewide civic elections show perceptible change in the pattern of voting and the mindset of the citizenry. Firstly, the balloters who switched their loyalties towards Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) - which has improved its tally in Mumbai, Nashik and Pune - were mostly the vote-bank of Congress and NCP. The change is significant, as in the previous elections it was Shiv Sena-BJP that lost a sizeable vote-share to the Raj Thackeray-led party.

Secondly, for the Congress, the outcome demands serious rethink over its decision to align with NCP. In most of the cities where the two parties combined for the polls, Congress suffered only to strengthen its partner. A cursory glance at the outcome of the BMC elections shows that the 28 seats won by MNS were mostly at the cost of Congress and NCP, unlike in the last general elections and assembly polls, where Shiv Sena and BJP bore the brunt. The results reveal, while the Sena lost eight seats, BJP gained three. On the other hand, Congress lost 21 seats - from 71 in 2007 to 50 in this edition. NCP could save face by matching its previous tally of 14.

The Shiv Sena-BJP outcry directed at Mumbaikars that MNS was doing nothing but weakening its base to benefit Congress and NCP, has finally paid off. MNS went on to dash the hopes of Congress-NCP, which was expecting to cash in on Raj Thackeray's party playing spoiler, to wrest power. Even in Thane, where NCP is quite strong with an MP and three MLAs in and around the city, the saffron combine retained power only because MNS failed to weaken its base. Here, MNS won just seven seats and NCP could not go beyond 34, with the Congress ending up at 18.

At Nashik, MNS's tally went up to 40 from mere 12 seats in the last edition, stopping NCP at 20 seats, four more than 2007. Under the leadership of PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal and his nephew MP Samir, NCP had high hopes of winning this civic body in alliance with Congress. Here, the latter won 15 seats, seven less than the 2007 polls. Whereas BJP retained its 14 wards and Sena came down from 26 seats to 19.

In Pune, MNS won 29 seats, 21 more than last time. NCP could add just three seats, taking its tally to 51. Congress suffered badly as it won only 28 seats, compared to 42 in 2007. While BJP did gain one more seat this time, the Sena lost four, taking its tally to 17 from the previous 21.

The voting pattern sends out worrying signals for the Congress and NCP - the ruling combination at the state level - as they have suffered in a big way, when compared to Shiv Sena-BJP in the civic elections. The voting pattern also reveals that in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik - the most urbanised part of the state - Congress-NCP has failed to augment its presence. On the other hand, MNS added more seats, weakening Congress-NCP's base in a big way and doing little to worry Shiv Sena-BJP.

All said and done, leaders of both Congress and NCP say in private that the time has now come to contest the assembly and Lok Sabha elections separately. The war of words between several leaders of the two parties, which was out in the open during the current polls, has refused to die down. Seems the marriage of convenience has failed to convince the voter.

-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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