MUMBAI: Riding the crest of a Narendra Modi wave, BJP is set to form government in Maharashtra for the first time on its own with surprise "outside support" from NCP as the Assembly poll threw up a hung House with the party emerging a clear winner but falling short of a majority.
BJP's gamble of walking out of the alliance with 'big brother' Shiv Sena paid off as it secured 122 seats in the 288-member assembly, three more than the 119 offered by the erstwhile partner before the split and 76 more than what it had got in 2009.
It is for the first time since Congress' tally of 141 seats in 1990 that a party has crossed the 100-seats mark in an Assembly election in Maharashtra.
Though the Sena too improved upon its 2009 showing winning 63 seats, it still fell short of its best performance in the 1995 poll when it had won 73 seats going to the hustings together with BJP and forming a coalition government.
Posting its worst performance, Congress secured 42 seats and former ally NCP, with which it had ruled the state for 15 years in a row before the poll-eve split, clinching 41.
A big surprise in the election was the near obliteration of Raj Thackeray's MNS, which many thought will be the X-factor in the poll as it managed to win just one seat.
While the party, which pursued the 'Marathi pride' agenda with great fervour could clinch just one seat, Hyderabad-based MIM opened its account winning two seats.
Bahujan Vikas Aaghadi and Peasants and Workers Party won three seats each, while Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, CPI(M), Samajwadi Party and BJP ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha pocketed one each and independents won seven.
Barring the Sena-BJP rule in 1995-99 and 580-day stint of Sharad Pawar-led Progressive Democratic Front government between July 18, 1978, and February 17, 1980, Congress was never out of power in the state since its creation in 1960.
As BJP appeared way ahead of rivals but 23 short of the magic figure of 145, bitter critic NCP sprang a surprise by extending the crucial "outside support", sparing it the trouble to enlist the backing of Shiv Sena in its effort to form government as the two former saffron allies blew hot and cold over coming together once again.
"NCP has decided to extend support to the proposed government of BJP in Maharashtra... There is no option but to see that the largest party forms a stable government. Also the BJP is ruling in the Centre and it will benefit the state," senior party leader Praful Patel told reporters, saying the move was in the "interest" of the state.
Though Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray made it clear his party will not lend unsolicited support to BJP in forming the government, saying "let them make the first move", he has reportedly called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to congratulate them on the electoral victories in Maharashtra and Haryana.
It was, however, not clear whether he had extended an olive branch and expressed willingness to join the BJP-led government.
"I am sitting at my home peacefully, if somebody thinks our support is needed, they can approach us. Somebody from that side (BJP) should come to us with a proposal. How can I go about offering my support?" he told reporters.
Earlier in the day, Shah gave a short shrift to Sena, and virtually put the blame for the split in the alliance on the party.
Taking a dig at Sena, with which the alliance broke over seat-sharing, the BJP chief said in Delhi, "The results have proved who was correct... We won more seats than we were being offered."
"As per norms of democracy, the largest party has the right to form the government. BJP will be forming the government in Maharashtra," he said without clarifying if the party will try to secure Sena's backing in forming government and maintaining NCP has offered "unconditional outside support" and that it "does not want to join the government".
While former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of Congress won from Karad South and ex-deputy CM Ajit Pawar of NCP emerged victorious from Baramati, Congress' Election Campaign Committee Chief Narayan Rane lost from Kudal.
Apart from Rane, 13 ministers in the Prithviraj Chavan government including heavyweights like Harshwardhan Patil and Rajendra Darda of Congress and Ganesh Naik of NCP too fell by the wayside.
In the outgoing House, the BJP had 47 members, Shiv Sena 45, Congress 81, NCP 62 and MNS 13.