- BJP, Sena looked set to win but well short of their target of 220 seats
- Mr Pawar took a dig at those who quit his party and joined BJP and Sena
- People have asked us to sit in opposition and we accept that, he said
The Maharashtra election trends show that people did not like the arrogance of power, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Sharad Pawar said today, as the ruling BJP and its ally Shiv Sena looked set to win but well short of their target of 220 seats.
The veteran also said "defections had not been accepted by people, with some exceptions," in a dig at leaders who quit the party and crossed over to the BJP and Shiv Sena before the elections.
But he also said people had asked his party to remain in opposition. "We will be thinking about taking a new leadership ahead. People have asked us to sit in opposition and we accept that,"Mr Pawar said.
Mr Pawar was non-committal on speculation that the NCP-Congress could offer support to the Shiv Sena to keep the BJP out of power.
"No decision has been taken...There is no such proposal either," Mr Pawar told reporters when asked about the possibility of his party supporting the Sena. He said the mandate was for his party to be in opposition, not to form government.
The BJP was leading in 98 seats and the Shiv Sena in 57 seats as the votes were counted for the Maharashtra election held on Monday. The NCP was leading in 54 assembly seats and the Congress was at 45.
Mr Pawar, 78, single-handedly led the opposition campaign in Maharashtra as the Congress seemed to be consumed by infighting and the lack of a strong state leadership.
Despite the gloom engulfing opposition parties after the BJP's spectacular national election victory earlier this year, the Maratha strongman refused to give up. He was even named in a corruption case involving loan default, though he said he had nothing to do with it.
The former Chief Minister addressing a rally in Satara in the rain, his white shirt soaked, became one of the defining images of the election campaign.
His efforts were not in vain. The NCP has emerged as the senior alliance partner in the state for the first time, reducing the Congress to number 4 in Maharashtra.
The Congress's complete chaos became obvious as two of its most prominent faces - Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora - squabbled openly. Sanjay Nirupam even declared he would not campaign for the party and at one point called Mr Deora "nikamma (useless)".
Mr Pawar muddled through, addressing multiple rallies and even becoming the sole target of the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a result of it.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis derided the opposition over its septuagenarian campaigner. "Abhi toh main jawan hoon (I am still young)," quipped Mr Pawar in return.
When he questioned the relevance in the Maharashtra poll battle of Article 370, or the centre's move to end special status to Jammu and Kashmir - a recurring theme of the Prime Minister's rallies, he received an unusually sharp response. "Doob maro (drown in shame)," said PM Modi at a rally, attacking the opposition leader for suggesting that Maharashtra had nothing to do with Kashmir.
Mr Pawar's response came today: "I want to thank Modi, Home Minister (Amit Shah) and other leaders and Chief Ministers of different states to have come and visited the state and said things about me."
"Some people crossed the limit of holding extreme views," he said, without naming anyone.
Mr Pawar also hit back at defectors like his former party MP from Satara, Udayanraje Bhosale, who was trailing behind the NCP candidate in the parliamentary by-polls. He said people did not like Mr Bhosale's
decision to join the BJP.
"The NCP and allies will meet after Diwali to discuss future course of action," Mr Pawar said, replying to a question about who would have the post of leader of opposition.
"Now that everything is over, I hope whatever they promised to the people, the MLAs will implement that to take the state forward," Mr Pawar said.