Imphal (Manipur): The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is within a striking distance of forming a government in Manipur for the first time though it emerged as the second largest party after the Congress, provided it is able to enlist support of three NDA partners.
The election threw up a hung verdict with neither of the two mainstream parties being able to reach the magic figure of 31 in the 60-member Assembly.
The Congress was the closest with 28 seats against BJP's 21, an impressive performance by all accounts.
The BJP is confident of forming the government by securing support of the Nationalist People's Party (NPP) and Naga People's Front (NPF), alliance partners of the North East Democratic Alliance and NDA at the Centre, which bagged four seats each.
The LJP, which is an NDA partner, TMC and Independents have bagged one seat each.
The NPF, NPP and LJP all fought the Assembly elections separately.
"We are confident of forming the next government in Manipur. The NPP has won four seats, LJP has won one seat.
Even though we have fought separately we are hopeful that they will join us as they are our partners in the NDA government. we will talk to the TMC and Independent candidates also," BJP leader and one of the front-runners in the race to ascend to the chief minister's chair, N Biren, told reporters.
After its stunning victory in Assam in 2016, the BJP scripted a dramatic turnaround of fortunes in the Northeast, a traditional stronghold of the Congress, bagging 36.3 per cent votes, which is even higher than the Congress which polled 35.1 per cent votes.
The presence of the BJP was so nominal in the state that the party had hardly fielded any candidate in the last 2012 Assembly polls.
Things looked up after the BJP's ascension to power at the Centre in 2014.
"After party's victory at the Lok Sabha election in 2014, the party felt the need to increase its foot print in the Northeast as the region is very important in our party's vision of overall development and a Congress-free India," state BJP president K Bhabananda Singh had said prior to the elections.
After the party's victory in Assam, the BJP had engaged its election machinery full throttle as well as some of its finest strategists like Ram Madhav to repeat Assam in Manipur.
With anti-incumbency at its height after a 15-year Congress rule, led by Okram Ibobi Singh, the BJP milked both dissent within the Congress and the anti-incumbency factor till the last drop....