Cashing in on the 'Marathi manoos' sentiment during its maiden foray in parliamentary elections, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena played a spoilsport, leading to defeat of at least five Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party candidates in the state.
MNS, which fielded candidates in 12 Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Pune and Aurangabad, finished second in some and polled over one lakh votes in each of the seats.
The maximum damage was done to BJP which was confident of winning Mumbai North and Mumbai North East, while the presence of MNS nominees deprived Shiv Sena's bid to retain Thane and the party also lost Mumbai North West and Nashik seats.
The Sena-BJP combine was betting on anti-incumbency factor to improve their performance in the state. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, however, said the performance of MNS candidates in the election has not helped Raj Thackeray, who led a campaign against north Indians, to cement his place in state politics.
"His party has not won a single seat. I don't believe that Congress has benefited due to him and he ate into the saffron votes. Congress has won this election based on its own development programmes and policies," Chavan said.
BJP state unit president Nitin Gadkari admitted that MNS had spoiled the their chances. "Our target to win 30 seats did not materialise due to division of votes by the MNS. We expected to win nine of the 12 seats, where MNS was also contesting," he said.
BJP ally Sena won two of these seats -- Kalyan and Aurangabad, with reduced margins.
The biggest setbacks were Mumbai North (Ram Naik), Mumbai North East (Kirit Somaiya) of BJP and Sena's traditional bastion Thane where Sanjeev Naik of the Nationalist Congress Party romped home.
However, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said MNS was not existent in 2004 when Sena had won just one seat in Mumbai. "We won 12 seats in 2004 and the party's tally has come down to 11 this time around. This is neither good nor bad. We have done very well in rural areas. Many Sena candidates won by large margins," he said.
MNS leader Atul Sarpotdar expressed satisfaction over the performance of the 12 party candidates. "We were expecting to win at least one seat. Our candidate in Nashik gave Sameer Bhujbal of NCP a very tough fight, but unfortunately we could not win," he said.