Imphal: The Bharatiya Janata Party coasted to a clear victory in the insurgency-ridden northeastern state of Manipur, picking up 32 seats in a house of 60.
The opposition Congress in one of its worst-ever performance, was reduced to just 5 seats from having the single largest party status in the 2017 elections, though Congress's former three-times chief minister O Ibobi Singh pulled off a victory from the Thoubal seat.
The Janata Dal (United) which had not won a seat in the previous election and the National People's Party (NPP) won six seats each, while the Naga People's Front too bagged five seats, according to the Election Commission.
The Kuki People's Alliance won two seats. Three seats were won by Independent candidates. At 10 pm, only one seat was yet to be decided where the NPP is leading.
BJP's vote share this time round was a massive 37.8 per cent. Congress despite its poor showing managed a respectable 16.8 per cent.
However, jockeying over the spoils of victory remained to be decided as BJP officials said the next Chief Minister of Manipur will be named by the BJP parliamentary board along with state unit authorities.
"As a national party we have a Parliamentary Board, which in consultation with the state unit authorities, will decide who will be the next Chief Minister," BJP state unit chief A Sharda Devi said when asked if there would be a new CM or N Biren Singh would continue.
This statement came despite the bonhomie between the two when earlier in the day, the two leaders joined other party workers in a traditional dance -Thabal Chongba - at the party headquarters.
The Bhartiya Janata Party had managed to form a government in 2017 despite having just 21 seats compared to Congress's 28 by joining hands with two local parties NPP and NPF.
However, this time round the BJP managed to win a majority on the plank that a vote for the party would bring peace to the troubled state both in the valley and the hills where tribals hold the ground.
A banned militant group Kuki National Organisation actually came out in support of the ruling party based on its promises of a swift settlement of Kuki aspirations.
Despite differences with partners- NPF and NNP- ahead of the elections, both of whom fielded candidates against BJP, the saffron party may engage with them while forming the government.
Biren Singh told PTI the alliance is a matter the central leadership will decide. While other party officials said that both partner parties have reached out offering support to the BJP.
The state which has had a long history of insurgency with rival groups with rival aims operating in both the valley where the Meitei dominate, and the hills where Tangkhul Nagas dominate, has long been yearning for peace.
Recent attacks on army personnel did not find too many supporters. High unemployment coupled with high literacy as well as exposition to a wider world with many young Manipuris travelling to mainland India with high paying jobs has led to a yearning for peace, say observers.
Attempts by the BJP to woo the youth by schemes such as `Start-Up Manipur' have found many takers.
Manipur's literacy rate according to the last census was nearly 80 per cent, far higher than the national average. However, youth unemployment in the 15-24 age group stood at a staggering 44.4 per cent according to the Economic Survey of Manipur 2020-21.