Imphal, March 11 (IANS) The ruling Congress finished as the single-largest party, but three short of a majority in a hung Manipur assembly on Saturday, with the BJP, for the first time, emerging the second largest outfit in the northeastern state where smaller parties and an independent lawmaker now held the key to government formation.
With all results of the 60-member house declared, the Congress clinched 28 seats, seven more than the BJP, after a day-long see-saw battle for the top slot between the two outfits.
The BJP, which drew a blank in the previous assembly polls five years back, came up with its best ever tally of 21 seats in the northeastern state, to continue its inroads into a region where it lacked strength for decades. Only last year, BJP had secured an absolute majority for the first time in neighbouring Assam and runs the government there.
A yardstick of the BJP’s impressive performance is that despite getting lesser number of seats than the Congress, it secured more votes and greater share of the mandate.Having contested all the seats, the BJP got 36.3 per cent of the votes. The Congress, which fielded candidates in 59 constituencies, secured 35.1 per cent.
But to form the government, both the Congress – which has been in power for 15 years at a stretch with Okram Ibobi Singh as Chief Minister – and the BJP would have to draw support from some smaller parties, who bagged 11 seats.
The National People’s Party and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) have won four seats each, while the Lok Janshakti Party and the Trinamool Congress got one apiece. An Independent candidate has also emerged victorious.
The results set rolling covert and over negotiations and confabulations as the two major parties looked to take their support among lawmakers to 31 to secure a majority.
Manipur state Congress chief T.N. Haokip exuded confidence about forming the next government, saying his party had begun discussions with “like minded secular and regional parties”.
BJP spokesperson Nongthombam Biren also said his party was “already working” to form the next ministry but did not elaborate.
The results showed that the Congress did well in the six districts of the Imphal Valley, accounting for 40 seats. The BJP, however, gave them a close run for money in these areas.
In the ten hill districts, where the Congress is comparatively weak, the BJP and the NPF battled it out for the 20 seats, with the BJP coming up trumps.
Ibobi, who spearheaded the Congress campaign in the run up to the elections, also led its winners’ list by retaining the prestigious Thoubal seat defeating rights activist and People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance party nominee Irom Sharmila, who got fewer than 100 votes.
The three-time Chief Minister won comfortably with over 15,000 votes over Leitanthem Basanta Singh of the BJP.
Sharmila’s political debut proved a non-starter as two other PRJA nominees also suffered humiliating defeats. It was a stunning blow for the Iron Lady, who had aimed to become the Chief Minister to repeal the stringent Armed Forces Special Power Aact, against which she had continued her fast-unto-death for 16 years.
Another prominent Congress winner was state minister Akoijam Mirabai from Patsoi.
Two heavyweight BJP winners were T. Radheshyam, who had resigned from the Indian Police Service ahead of the elections, and party spokesperson Biren.
Nothwithstanding its impressive showing, the BJP suffered a big setback, with the defeat of former Union Minister and ex-state party chief Thounaojam Chaoba Singh – regarded as its Chief Ministerial candidate – from Nambol.
Another prominent BJP loser was former director of Regional Institute of Medical Sciences L. Fimate in border constituency, Tipaimukh.
Seemingly relieved with the Congress becoming the single largest party after a ding dong battle with the BJP, Okram Ibobi said: “People have appreciated the developmental works of the last 15 years. They want peace stability,progress and protection of territorial integrity.”
However, BJP’s Nimaichand Luwang, who was humbled at the hustings, accused the Congress of using money and criminals.
“Money power played a decisive role. Besides in some cases there were instances of criminalisation of politics,” he said.