Big win for secular/left parties in Maharashtra

The Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra has done quite well in the recent state elections there. The two parties together have 141 seats, just shy of a majority. The pundits (the real ones -- the Indian ones) are reading this as a positive development for the Congress, and for the Manmohan/Sonia government. Maybe they'll still be in power a year from now!

The BJP and Shiv Sena parties both lost seats. Most of the national coverage (on Outlook, for instance) has focused on this as a defeat for the BJP. But one news article I found suggests that the bigger question is the future of the Shiv Sena.

The Hindu radical Shiv Sena won only 62 seats in the 288-member state assembly, down seven from its previous tally. The party's electoral rout in state capital Mumbai, its traditional stronghold, came as a major blow. It won only nine seats in this city of 14 million people, billed as the country's financial and entertainment hub, as against 12 in the previous state polls in 1999.

One should probably note that a loss of three seats in Mumbai is not quite a rout.

The stakes were particularly high for Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who was looking for a win to stem squabbling within his party that is threatening to erode his authority. Many Shiv Sena leaders had quit the party in recent months and fought the poll as rebel candidates. Experts said the discord between the two heirs to the Thackeray throne -- his son Uddhav and nephew Raj -- would only intensify in the days ahead with the Shiv Sena failing to do well in the elections.

Once known as the most powerful man in Maharashtra with a fanatical following, Thackeray -- referred to by his acolytes as "Tiger" -- is also fighting a battle to prove that he may be physically frail but the roar is very much in place. Poor health had forced Thackeray, 78, to cut back on his election campaign. He addressed only two public meetings in the run-up to the polls to boost the prospects of the Shiv-Sena BJP combine. The Shiv Sena was trying hard to regain its base in Mumbai as it searched for a leader to take over the mantle from Thackeray, a cartoonist turned politician.

Gossip, folks. Isn't it more interesting than predictable headlines like "BJP Scratches Head" or "Singhal Blames Departure from Agenda of Ethno-religious Hatred for Loss" ?