Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said that keeping the May parliament elections defeat behind, the Congress had been preparing for the assembly elections with vigour and enthusiasm. "Senior party leaders are carrying out specific tasks and the party has presented a picture of collective responsibility to take on the electoral challenge," Chavan told media persons soon after the Election Commission announced the poll schedules.

"We shall highlight the solid achievements of the past 15 years of rule in the state and the 10 years of UPA government at the centre. People are well aware of the mess created by the Shiv Sena-BJP rule in 1995-1999. The people will defeat the communal forces," Chavan declared.

Citing examples, he said the coalition comprising the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had successfully handled major challenges to ensure Maharashtra retained the top position in various sectors like investments, infrastructure, industrial development, health, education and social fields.

On the issue of seat-sharing with 15-year-old ally NCP, Chavan said that the discussions were on between the two parties and the agreement would be finalized soon. Engineer-turned-politician, Chavan, 68, took over the state's reins in late 2010 and survived rough political weather on several occasions when other senior leaders sought his ouster after the Lok Sabha results when Congress bagged only two seats out of the state's 48.

The Congress-NCP, now hoping to capture power for the fourth consecutive term since 1999, faces tough challenge from the re-invigorated Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena-Republican Party of India alliance and an anti-incumbency factor.

In the outgoing 288-member assembly, Congress has 82 legislators, the NCP 62, BJP 46, Shiv Sena 44, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena 13, while independents and other smaller parties account for the remaining 41 seats.

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