Imphal, March 11 (IANS) Manipur seemed to be headed for a hung assembly with the ruling Congress and the BJP locked in a neck and neck fight to emerge as the single largest party, overall trends in the vote count revealed on Saturday.
Of the 21 results in the 60-seat assembly declared so far, the Congress has won eight, and the BJP seven seats. The National People's Party and the Lok Janshakti Party bagged one seat each.
As per the latest overall trends (including the seats already declared), which have been changing regularly since morning, the Congress - in power for the past 15 years with Okram Ibobi Singh as the Chief Minister - and the BJP were both ahead in 24 seats. The National People's Party could end up with three seats, while others were frontrunners in six seats.
A big story of the election is the emergence of the BJP as a formidable contender for power. Having finished without any seat five years back,it outfit has come up with its best ever showing in the assembly polls in the northeastern state. While it is certain to finish as one of the two largest parties, its leaders were hoping to do one better with four results yet to come.
The Congress was putting up a good show, with the BJP giving them a close run for money, in the six districts of the Imphal Valley comprising 40 constituencies.
In the ten hill districts, where the Congress is comparatively weak, the BJP and the Naga People's Front were battling it out for the 20 seats. The NPF was leading in all three districts in Senapati district.
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. Leitanthem Basanta Singh of BJP came second in the vote count.
With two other PRJA nominees suffering humiliating defeats, it was a stunning blow for Sharmila, who had aimed to become the chief minister to repeal the stringent AFSPA, 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 N. 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.