With counting of votes in Himachal Pradesh set for Thursday, both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress say they will easily win.
Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal of BJP is aiming to retain power while five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh of Congress is fighting -- to quote some of his admirers -- a "battle of survival". "We will get a decisive lead this time. I am saying this after my 50 years in active politics," state Congress chief Virbhadra Singh said.
But a confident Dhumal asserts he will create history by repeating his tenure for a second consecutive term. If he manages, it will be the first time a ruling party will win assembly elections.
"The record voter turnout on November 4 is a clear indication of anti-incumbency. The anger is directed against the anti-people policies of the Congress-led UPA government," Dhumal said.
Both Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh campaigned aggressively across the hill state.
"This probably might be the last election for Virbhadra Singh to re-establish his credentials as a charismatic leader," a Congress leader said.
This election's focus is on Kangra district, the largest in the state with 15 seats. Kangra is now dominated by the BJP. The Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), formed by BJP rebel and four-time former MP Maheshwar Singh, and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are giving a tough fight to the Congress and BJP in four constituencies: Shimla, Kullu, Palampur and Jaswan Pragpur.
The HLP put up candidates in 36 of the 68 seats. A record number of 106 of the total 459 candidates were independents. Political leaders said some BJP and Congress rebels could play spoilsport. The Congress rebels include legislator Yograj (Dehra), former minister Ishwar Dass (Ani) and Dharamvir Dhami (Manali). BJP legislator Roop Singh (Sundernagar) and former leaders Rajinder Rana (Sujanpur) and Sudha Sushant (Fatehpur), wife of MP Rajan Sushant, have contested as independents.
Nearly 75 % of the 4.6 million electorate voted on November 4. Officials said the state received only 2,800 postal ballots. The counting of votes will start at 8 a.m on Thursday.