Voters in Manipur failed to give a clear verdict in the assembly polls, with the ruling Congress and a resurgent BJP locked in a close contest in the northeastern state on Saturday.
By 6 pm, 10 hours after counting of votes began, Congress had won 28 of the total 60 seats. The saffron party followed close behind with 21.
Smaller parties such as the National Peoples’ Party (NPP), which bagged 4 seats, and Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) with 4 would be crucial to government formation in the state.
The saffron party appeared to have the upper hand as the NPP and NPF are already part of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), an anti-Congress front comprising regional parties.
“We may be the second largest party, but we are confident of forming the government as smaller parties and the lone independent winner will be supporting us,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
Talks have already begun with NPP, NPF, Lok Janshakti Party (which has one seat) and All India Trinamool Congress (one seat). A meeting of elected BJP legislators is slated late on Saturday night.
The BJP had secured just 2% of the votes in the last elections and failed to win any of the 19 seats it contested. This time it contested all 60 seats.
Due to sentiments in the Meitei-dominated valley area against NPF, efforts are on to get outside support from the party. BJP is part of the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government in Nagaland.
Rights activist Irom Sharmila who contested against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in Thoubal got only 90 votes. Singh retained the seat with 18649 votes with BJP’s L Basanta coming second with 8179 votes.
“I don’t feel ashamed of my defeat but am fed up of elections and won’t contest again in future. But I want my party, Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) to continue,” the 43-year-old told Hindustan Times.
Prominent losers were rural development minister in the ruling government M Okendro, who lost to BJP in Heirok, and former Congress minister and National Peoples Party candidate P Tonsing, who lost to BJP in Churachandpur.
Senior BJP leader and potential chief minister candidate Th Chaoba Singh, who lost to N Loken of Congress in Nambol, and former opposition firebrand and BJP candidate from Langthbal O Joy, who lost to Lok Janshakti Party, were other important losers.
“Unfortunately, we are below our expectations. BJP tricked voters with money power and false promises. They also colluded with NSCN-IM to rig votes in Naga-dominated areas,” state Congress president TN Haokip told HT.
The Congress has also initiated talks with smaller parties, but it is unlikely to cobble the required figure of 31 seats needed to form government.