BJP leads in Maharashtra, reaches out to Sena

Mumbai (IANS): The BJP Sunday indicated it was ready to reach out to its estranged ally Shiv Sena as it led in about 120 seats but seemed to be falling short of a majority in the Maharashtra assembly.

Shortly after asserting that his party would win a majority in the 288-member house, BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis sounded conciliatory vis-a-vis the Sena, which the BJP dumped ahead of the Oct 15 election.

“We have not held any discussion with the Sena,” Fadnavis told the media, as his party and three smaller allies led in some 120 seats, his own party count being 108.

“But if the need arises, we expect our friends to support us,” he added.

The BJP had hoped to take power on its own in Maharashtra, one of the country’s biggest states, for the first time after ending its 25-year-old alliance with the Sena.

One reason this did not happen is because the Sena, which campaigned aggressively against the BJP and on a strong Marathi platform, was on the winning track in 57 seats.

As the vote count continued, Shiv Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut said: “Whatever happens, the chief minister will be from our party. We will make our stand clear today evening.”

At the same time, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which took broke their alliance just before the polls, ended up taking the lead in 48 and 50 seats respectively — better than expected.

Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, however, cut a sorry figure. It was ahead in just six seats, and independents and other smaller parties — including BJP’s three allies — in 12 places.

Shiv Sena leader Anil Desai told CNN-IBN television that the acrimony between his party and the BJP was history.

“The war between the Sena and the BJP is over,” he said. But it wasn’t clear if this reflected the views of the Sena leadership which had spoken virulently against Prime Minister Narenddra Modi during the campaign.

Fadnavis referred to this, saying the BJP had never regarded the Shiv Sena as its political foe.

“But the way they targeted us during the election campaign and in particular Narendra Modi, we are deeply hurt,” he said earlier in the day. “As of now we are not thinking of any alliance (with the Sena).”

Asked if he could be the next chief minister, Fadnavis said he was only the state party chief and the BJP Parliamentary Board would take the final decision on the subject.

An early major loser was Congress veteran Narayan Rane, who lost in Kudal constituency. The first winner was Madhuri Misal of the BJP. She was declared elected from Parvatti in Pune district.

A peeved NCP blamed the Congress for the impending rout.

“It all happened because of Chavan,” NCP’s Nawab Malik told the media, referring to former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress.

“He had no understanding of the issues in Maharashtra, he did not take the right decisions, and he didn’t act when he had to. He is responsible for the state of both the Congress and the NCP,” Malik said.

The NCP and Congress have been in power in Mahrashtra for 15 long years. The coalition came apart Sep 25, just three weeks before the Oct 15 polls, leading to President’s Rule in the state.

Officials Sunday morning began counting the millions of votes cast in the assembly elections. In the fray were 4,119 candidates.