Himachal Pradesh lived up to its reputation of voting out the party in power as the Congress encashed on anti-incumbency to win a wafer-thin majority of 36 in the 68-member state Assembly on Thursday.
The BJP, which suffered from severe infighting with many rebels in the fray, won 26 seats.
A five-time chief minister who was given the reins of the Congress on the eve of the November 4 elections, PCC chief Virbhadra Singh ran a spirited campaign, and is again a contender for the top post. While the Congress maintained its usual silence on the matter, waiting for a nod from the high command, Virbhadra indicated he believed he deserved the job.
I have only accomplished the task given to me by Sonia Gandhi by bringing the party back to power. It will be her decision on the chief minister... People of Himachal Pradesh already have given their verdict on should be chief minister, he told The Indian Express.
The winner from Shimla (Rural) by a margin of 20,000 votes, Virbhadra added that the Congress could have won more seats if he had got enough time to campaign. Calling the Congress win a victory of the people, he attributed the BJPs defeat to mal-administration, corruption and non-fulfillment of poll promises.
Apart from the Congress and BJP, five seats went to the Independents, three of them BJP rebels. The Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) floated by BJP dissident Maheshwar Singh won one seat (Kullu).
In the last elections in 2007, the BJP had won 42 seats and the Congress 23.
The BJP had levelled allegations of corruption against Virbhadra, then the Union steel minister. However, neither those allegations nor the CD case filed by the state government in which charges were framed against him, leading to his resignation from the Union Cabinet, appear to have come in the way of the Congresss win.
Incidentally, Vijay Singh Mankotia, the man behind the CD case who joined the Congress on the eve of the Assembly polls, lost from Shahpur.
While outgoing CM Prem Kumar Dhumal won from Hamirpur by 9,302 votes, four of his Cabinet colleagues, Narinder Bragata (Jubbal-Kotkhai), Khimi Ram (Banjar), Krishan Kumar (Dharamshala) and Romesh Dhawala (Jawalamukhi), lost. Accepting defeat, Dhumal said: I extend my good wishes to the new government. Refusing to speculate on the reasons, he added that they would be meeting soon to discuss the same.
While the Congress