Council biennial polls headed for nail-biting finish

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Mumbai, Mar 25 (UNI) The biennial elections to elect nine members to the Maharashtra Legislative Council tomorrow are headed for a nail- biting finish with the prestige of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, his arch rival Revenue Minister Narayan Rane and Shiv Sena at stake.

Ten candidates are in the fray for the polls. The 289-member Legislative Assembly, including one nominated member, constitutes the electoral college.

The Congress has fielded three candidates -- Shivajirao Deshmukh, Sudhakar Gangane and Jaiprakash Chhajed, while NCP has also fielded three candidates--Rana Jagjitsingh Patil, Hemant Takle and Sanjay Patil.

The BJP and Shiv Sena have fielded two candidates each. Leader of the Opposition Pandurang Phundkar and Vinod Tawade are the BJP candidates while Shiv Sena has fielded Dr Neelam Gorhe and Kiran Pawaskar.

The quota for first preference votes for each candidate is 29. In the 288-member Legislative Assembly, the Congress has a strength of 75, NCP - 71, Shiv Sena - 56, BJP - 54, JSP - 4, PWP - 2, CPI(M) - 3, RPI(A) - 1, BRP-Bahujan Mahasangh - 1, ABS - 1, SBP - 1 and independents - 19.

With 29 votes required to elect the candidates, the Congress and the NCP will require the support of independents and others to elect their third candidate. BJP, too, would require outside support to ensure victory for both its candidates.

Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray is abroad and the poll strategy is being handled by senior leader Subhash Desai.

Political observers feel that Shiv Sena is treading cautiously as it has not forgotten the defeat in the 2006 council polls.

Mr Deshmukh has to get his two nominees Sudhakar Gangane and Jaiprakash Chhajed elected. Council chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh is also seeking renomination. According to political observers, Mr Rane's moves are being closely watched on whether he will try to outmanoevre the Chief Minister or teach his former party Shiv Sena a lesson. Observers say Mr Rane is capable of swaying at least five Sena legislators.

Sena MLA Bala Nandgaonkar has been openly supporting MNS chief Raj Thackeray, whose proximity to Revenue Minister Narayan Rane is known. The Sena may, therefore, find it difficult to get its second candidate elected, observers feel. The party is keeping its cards close to its chest.

All the parties are trying to keep its elected representatives in good humour by organising dinner parties.

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