For the Congress, the triumph in Himachal Pradesh could not have come at a more opportune time.
The party, which was more or less written off in Gujarat despite its leaders' public posturing and lofty claims about their ability to turn the tide, desperately needed to turf out the BJP, its principal rival, from the small hill state to keep the score at one-all.
The victory, though not a spectacular one at 36 out of the 68 seats, will not only provide solace but also give confidence to the party cadres. A loss in Himachal would have been interpreted as manifestation of public sentiment against the policies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre ahead of the assembly polls in some crucial states next year.
Birender Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of party affairs in Himachal, termed the result "a victory of monumental significance and a stamp of approval for the policies, programmes and, above all, inclusive development model of the Congress". "Also, it is the people's mandate against the ineffectual governance of the BJP," he said.
The Congress leaned heavily on the pan-Himachal sway of former five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, and gained from the undercurrent of anti-incumbency against the Prem Kumar Dhumal government and turbulence within the BJP, making significant inroads in its stronghold of Kangra in 'new Himachal'. The performance in the 'old Himachal' areas did not match expectations though.
While inner squabbles and the resultant delay in ticket distribution hurt the party in some segments, the aggressive campaign led by Virbhadra worked. The overriding theme of the Congress campaign was corruption and nepotism, and the strategy was to fire salvos at CM Dhumal and his sons. Also, there was an emotional pitch that this was the 78-year-old Congress leader's last electoral outing.
On the other hand, Dhumal, whose party has defeated anti-incumbency in several states, indicated from the beginning that he was not going to go down lightly and tried hard to buck the 'revolving door syndrome'. Banking on his down-to-earth demeanor, he had pulled out all stops to highlight development initiatives.
The saffron party was also hoping to gain from camp rivalries in the Congress and the public anger against inflation, especially the rates of petrol, and the cap on supply of subsidised cylinders. It promised free induction cookers.
But the gambit hasn't worked for the BJP, which was severely hamstrung by lack of cohesion between its senior leaders, Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, whose frosty relations are no secret. The internal bickering, which led to wrong distribution of tickets and fuelled rebellion, appears to have manifested itself in Kangra.
Dhumal said it is time to introspect and analyse the reasons, while Shanta Kumar said, "We have no option other than accepting their verdict. I don't want to say anything more at this stage."