Maharashtra: So who will be chief minister?

Maharashtra: So who will be chief minister?

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Mumbai:  The Congress-NCP alliance is back in power in Maharashtra, for the third time. The alliance has crossed the halfway mark in the 288-seat Assembly and stage two has already begun.

The Congress and NCP have together won 146 seats, while the Shiv Sena-BJP combine trails at 91 and the MNS has a creditable 13 in its kitty.

The focus now is on who will be the next chief minister. "We will form the government in Maharashtra," said Ashok Chavan, Chief Minister, Maharashtra.

For the NCP it's not quite the debacle, pundits predicted after its poor showing the Lok Sabha polls.

"No our performance in Lok Sabha was not up to the mark and that's why we had to compromise. But anyhow we have proved our mettle," said Sharad Pawar, NCP president, Union Agriculture Minister.

"Let Congress decide their own nomine," Pawar further said.

This is being seen as less of a victory for the Congress-NCP more a failure of the Opposition unable to capitalise on the anti-incumbency and seriously handicapped by the split in saffron vote bank.

Several big guns say they are ready for the job, including NCP leader and outgoing Deputy Chief Minister Chagan Bhujbal, who counted a list of worthies among leaders in his party and then proposed a "rotational model" on the lines of the Congress coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress insists there is no question of rotating chief ministers. Former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said: "That issue has already been resolved by the high commands of both parties."

Deshmukh said a Congress leader would be chief minister, and though he ruled out being a contender, he seems to have thrown his hat into the ring, saying it was his work over the last four-and-a-half years that had paid dividends. He was also quick to say that the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were not a factor. Deshmukh had to step down as chief minister after the November 2008 attacks.

"So far as Ashok Chavan is concerned, hardly he got six months to act as a Chief Minister because of two elections, Code of Conduct. He got very little period and it is very difficult to judge a person within this six months' performance," said Vilasrao Deshmukh, Congress Leader, Union Heavy industries Minister.

But current Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is not ready to give in either. He says it is his contribution that brought the party the votes. Chavan took over from Deshmukh in December last. "I have performed my role, and the results are there for you to see," he said.

Right now, the hopefuls hastily add that the Congress high command will decide on the next chief minister.

Not all contenders though are from the Congress. Chagan Bhujbal, who proposed that the chief ministership be rotated between the Congress and his party, the NCP, said he had "no problem if he was offered the CM's post".

His party chief Sharad Pawar said earlier that his party was forced to compromise on seats, but despite that had proved its mettle. Asked if his party would ask for the deputy chief minister's post, Pawar said:  "That is an understanding. There is nothing new in it."

For the Shiv Sena-BJP combine meanwhile, it has been a stunning loss. And both parties said Raj Thackeray's MNS divided the votes. It's clear that the rise of Raj Thackeray to this extent has taken them by surprise. The BJP's Gopinath Munde said it was the Thackeray split that led to the alliance's failure.

But at a Press conference, Raj said the Opposition in Maharashtra had failed, referring to the poor showing of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine.

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