The outcome of the assembly polls in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat is on expected lines, and demonstrates beyond any doubt that the victory in the two states is on account of two very strong regional leaders. In Gujarat, it is Narendra Modi, and Virbhadra Singh has done a similar deed for the Congress in Himachal.
What is significant in respect of Himachal is that the tirade of corruption charges launched by the BJP against Virbhadra backfired, essentially because people were unconvinced that the five-time former chief minister was guilty.
In fact, they saw bigger corruption within the outgoing Prem Kumar Dhumal-led government. Reports of financial irregularities regarding BJP chief Nitin Gadkari made things further difficult for the Saffron Brigade.
In addition, Virbhadra, who was also being targeted by an ineffective section in his own party, spearheaded the Congress campaign and addressed meetings in as many as 60 out of 68 assembly segments. His detractors were thoroughly exposed since the party nominees were only making a request for him to address rallies in their respective areas.
In sharp contrast, no other state leader was in demand and some of them could not even get out of their constituencies, given the tight position they found themselves in.
During his campaign, Virbhadra did not shift focus from the Dhumal government's alleged wrongdoings and, using his vast experience of 50 years in public life, was able to strike a chord in every part of the state. While doing so, he energised the party workers and simultaneously put the BJP on the defensive.
He exploited the rift within the BJP between Dhumal and Shanta Kumar to his advantage, and was able to convince the electorate that the present government was robbing the state of its resources and amassing wealth outside.
So far as the common people were concerned, they responded very positively primarily since they felt that this could be perhaps the final time he was leading the campaign.
Even though the Congress did not project him for the chief minister's position, it did send several signals about his candidacy. The first was when he was made the state unit chief replacing Kaul Singh Thakur shortly before the announcement of the elections.
Second was when he was given a party ticket from Shimla (Rural) despite the fact that he is currently the seniormost member of the 15th Lok Sabha. In the recent past, no Lok Sabha MP has been encouraged by the Congress high command to contest assembly polls.
Third was that he was consulted closely by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and the Prime Minister on the theme of their speeches during the campaign.
It is virtually certain that Virbhadra will be elected as the CM for the sixth time, even though he has left it to Sonia Gandhi. The party perhaps realises the importance of a strong regional leader, and this understanding may also extend to other strong leaders like Capt Amarinder Singh in Punjab, given that Lok Sabha elections are not very far now.
The Himachal victory is Virbhadra's Christmas and New Year's gift to his party.