With Jharkhand headed for a fractured verdict in assembly polls, the Congress on Wednesday appeared to be sensing an opportunity to install a party-led coalition there for the first time in the state and sought to win new friends including the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
With number being the name of power game, Congress leaders described the RJD as a "UPA (United Progressive Alliance) constituent" and JMM chief Shibu Soren a "family member" in spite of the fact that they were not part of Congress-led pre-poll alliance in the state.
As Congress-Jharkhand Vikas Morcha alliance appears to be emerging as the largest pre-poll group in the 81-member assembly, the refrain in the All India Congress Committee is for ensuring a secular and stable government in the tribal state.
Continuing its good electoral run since the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress, which fought in alliance with Babulal Marandi led- Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) bagged 13 seats while its partner got an impressive 10 seats in its electoral debut.
In a House of 81 seats, Shibu Soren-led JMM, fighting on its own, secured 18 seats and was being wooed by both the major combinations for forming the government.
Indications of a tough bargain came from JMM, which said that the party's support would go to anyone who would support "Guruji", the name by which Soren is fondly called by his admirers.
Reeling under a string of electoral debacles, the BJP failed to break the jinx when its tally fell to 18 from 30 in the 2005 elections. Its ally JD(U) managed a paltry two as against six it had.
Another party which could play an important role is the RJD, the Congress' former ally and now outside supporter of the UPA government at the Centre.
Lalu Prasad's party has got five seats that could be crucial to formation of a government of a secular combine.
Both the Congress and BJP made it clear that they were keen on forming a government in which 13 MLAs belonging to the 'Others' category and Independents would be much-sought after by rival combinations.
Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari, however, said in reply to questions that this does not mean that the Congress has given up its claim to chief ministership which is being sought by Shibu Soren-led JMM virtually as a pre-condition for support.
"The Congress is the single largest party in the single largest group," said Tewari, adding that "in certain circumstances stepping up for public service is also a sacrifice" when asked whether the party is ready to make sacrifices on its claim for chief ministership.
Replying to questions, Tewari said the RJD is a "constituent" of UPA and AICC secretary in-charge for Jharkhand K Keshav Rao dismissed suggestions that Soren could support the BJP in government formation in Jharkhand, saying "I know his (Soren's) views. He is like a family member."
Results are yet to come from eight seats where counting is in progress.
The RJD, which had allied with Lok Janshakti Party, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Maoist Communist Centre, won three seats, while last time it had won seven.
Among prominent winners were Hemant Soren, son of JMM chief Shibu Soren and his daughter-in-law Sita Soren, BJP state unit chief Raghubar Das, and former ministers Enos Ekka and Harinaryan Rai -- both currently in judicial custody in disproportionate assets case.
Another winner was former chief minister, Madhu Koda's wife Geeta, who romped home from Jagannthpur.
Former ministers Bandhu Tirkey of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch and Nalin Soren of JMM also won.
Prominent losers were Assembly Speaker Alamgir Alam from Pakur, JPCC chief Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu from Ghatshila former deputy chief ministers Stephen Marandi and Sudhir Mahto from Dumka and Iccagarh.Former ministers, Bhanu Pratap Sahi of Navjivan Sanghursh Morch, Joba Majhi (United Goans Democratic Party), Dinesh Kumar Sarengi of the BJP, Dulal Bhuniya of JMM, Aparna Sengupta of Forward Bloc and former union minister and Congress leader Rameshwar Oraon also lost.