New Delhi: The Congress-led alliance emerged as the single-largest group in the Jharkhand assembly as election results declared on Wednesday threw up a fractured verdict.

Kingmakers: Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supporters celebrate their party’s performance in the election. PTI

The Congress and its ally Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik won 23 seats in the 81-member assembly, with the Congress taking 13 of them, according to results declared until 8pm.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shibu Soren-led JMM both had 18 seats each. The BJP’s ally, Janata Dal (United), won two.

Soren announced that he would align with any party willing to make him chief minister.

But the Congress leadership was divided over forging yet another alliance with the JMM. Many party leaders argued the Congress owed its gains in the tribal state, where it had only nine legislators earlier, to walking away from the corruption-tainted JMM earlier this year.

It also benefited from breaking up with former chief minister Madhu Koda, who is accused of amassing disproportionate assets worth Rs4,000 crore.

These leaders want the party to sit in the opposition and strengthen its grassroots support in coming years. They cite Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s recently launched membership drive in the state, which has managed to sign on more than 400,000 Youth Congress activists.

But others want “secular forces" to unite to form the government.

“In certain circumstances, stepping up for public service is also a sacrifice," said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari, when asked whether the party was ready to “make sacrifices" on its claim for chief ministership.

The BJP parliamentary board met in New Delhi under the chairmanship of the newly-elected president Nitin Gadkari to discuss the strategy in Jharkhand. Later, spokesman Ananth Kumar did not rule out the possibility of the party trying to form the government.

Former railway minister Lalu Prasad, whose Rashtriya Janata Dal won five seats, indicated he was ready to forge an alliance with the Congress and the JMM.

But analysts warned the party against such a move. “I do not think the Congress should try forming the government in such a situation," said Bihar-based political analyst Shaibal Gupta.

Graphics: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint

“The quality of governance in Jharkhand had reached a nadir and people wanted a change. Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to revive the party by invigorating the youth have enhanced its image," he said.

But B.G. Verghese, political analyst and visiting professor, Centre for Policy Research, feared the fractured verdict would lead to “massive horse trading" in the state, referring to the practice of paying off legislators of other parties in lieu of their support on the floor of the house.

Union minister Vayalar Ravi said the Jharkhand results underlined the electorate’s “growing trust" in the Congress. “They show that the people believe the Congress stands for development and unity. After experimenting with regional parties and groups, who failed to deliver, they are returning to the Congress," he said.

The staggered polls were held between 25 November and 18 December. A total of 1,511 candidates were in the fray and a 58% voter turnout was recorded.

The state was placed under President’s rule in January after the chief minister lost a by-election and resigned.

PTI contributed to this story.