Riding an anti-incumbency wave and staving off corruption charges against its veteran leader Virbhadra Singh, Congress on Thursday wrested power from BJP in Himachal Pradesh with a wafer-thin majority of 36 in the 68-member Assembly.
Disproving predictions of a close contest, the state lived to its reputation of voting out the party in power, giving the ruling BJP, which suffered from severe infighting and rebel candidates, only 26 seats.
The Independents, mostly BJP and Congress rebels, won five seats while Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) floated by BJP dissidents won one seat.
The Congress party on Thursday claimed it has the numbers for a majority in the Himachal Pradesh assembly and form the next government in the state.
In the last elections in 2007, the BJP had bagged 41 seats and Congress 23.
78-year-old Virbhadra Singh, a five-time chief minister who was given the reins of the party on the eve of elections and who ran a spirited campaign, won from Shimla (Rural).
Singh said in Shimla Congress president Sonia Gandhi would decide on who would lead the new government.
"I have left it to Sonia-ji to decide who will be the next chief minister," Virbhadra Singh told IANS in Shimla, adding that he has 'full faith in the high command'.
Singh, against whom BJP had levelled allegations of corruption during his tenure as steel minister in Delhi in the campaign, is again a strong contender for the chief minister's post, political observers say.
He also appears to have emerged unscathed from the CD case filed by the Dhumal government in which charges were framed against him leading to his resignation from the Union Government.
"On behalf of the Congress party, I thank the people of the state for having reposed their faith in the party and its leaders at the centre and in the state," Singh said in a statement.
While chief minister PK Dhumal won from Hamirpur constituency, his four cabinet colleagues Narinder Bragata, Khimi Ram, Krishan Kumar and Romesh Dhawala lost the elections.
Conceding his defeat, outgoing chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told reporters in Hamirpur, his home district town, that his Bharatiya Janata Party would now analyse the debacle.
"We will have to find out where we went wrong. We will analyse and assess the reasons," Dhumal said. "My best wishes to the new government".
However, cabinet ministers Gulab Singh, Mohinder Singh, Jai Ram Thakur, Ravinder Singh Ravi, Sarveen Chowdhary and Ishwar Dass Dhiman retained their seats.
Leader of the opposition Vidya Stokes won from Theog while Vijay Singh Mankotia, a bete noir of V B Singh, who buried the hatchet and rejoined Congress on the eve of assembly polls, was defeated from Shahpur.
The Congress wrested as many as 22 seats from BJP which could wrench out only seven from Congress.
The president of Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP), Maheshwar Singh was lone winner of HLP which had fielded 36 candidates while CPI, CPI (M) BSP, SP and other splinter parties drew a blank.
The Congress fared well in Shimla, Kangra and Kullu districts, winning six out of eight seats in Shimla, ten out of fifteen seats in Kangra and two out of four seats in Kullu district and made a clean sweep in tribal areas winning all three tribal constituencies of Bharmaur, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti.
However, it received a set back in Sirmaur district, losing four out of five seats and also fared badly in Chamba and Solan districts losing three out of five seats in both the districts.
The BJP lost Badsar and Sujanpur seats in Hamirpur, the home district of Dhumal and could win only two ouT of five seats in Una.
In Bilaspur district, the BJP retained Sri Naina Devi and Jundatta seats but lost the prestigious Bilaspur seat, earlier represented by BJP National general Secretary, JP Nadda.
Rajiv Bindal of BJP, who had shifted to Nahan from Solan, defeated sitting member Kush Parmar, wresting the seat from Congress.
Both the BJP and Congress shared five seats each in the second biggest district of Mandi with all three sitting ministers from the district, Gulab Singh, Jairam Thakur and Mohinder Singh and former HPCC president Kaul Singh retaining their seats.
The Congress suffered major setback in Sirmaur district with seven-time MLA and former minister Gangu Ram Musafir and four-time MLA Harshvardhan losing from Pachhad (SC) and Shillai constituencies.
BJP MLA from Sri Renukaji (SC) constituency, Hriday Ram, was defeated.
The BJP could win only five out of 23 seats in Kangra and Shimla districts and Mohan Lal of Congress won by highest margin of 28,415 votes from Rohroo, which was represented by former chief minister VB Singh but was reserved during delimitation.
Rajiv Saizal of the BJP won by lowest margin of 24 votes from Kasauli, retaining the seat.
Senior BJP leader, Roop Singh, a six-time MLA, who had resigned from the party and contested as an independent, also lost to his Congress rival Sohan Lal.
Anita Verma, president of All India Mahila Congress, lost to Rajinder Singh Rana, a BJP rebel, from Sujanpur, by a huge margin of 14,166 votes while AICC secretary Asha Kumari avenged her loss in the last election and won from Dalhousie, defeatingRenu Chaddha by 7,365 votes.
HLP wrested three seats each from BJP and Congress.
The Congress wrested the Banjjar, Ani, Sundernagar, Dalhousie, Churah, Bharmaur, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti, Badsar, Sri Renukaji, Bilaspur, Chintpurni, Jubbal and Kotkhai, Rohroo, Doon, Solan, Sulah, Dharamsala, Jwalamukhi, Palampur and Jaisingpur seats from BJP and seats from BJP and Karsog, Theog and Nurpur seats from Independents.
Congress conceded Pragpur Jaswan, Nadaun, Nahan, Shillai, Pachhad, Bhatiyyat and Churah seats to BJP which lost Sujanpur, Indora and Kangra seats to Independents and Kullu seat to HLP.
(With inputs from PTI and IANS)