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BJP routs Congress as Himachal Pradesh continues anti-incumbency trend

Results to the Himachal election were declared late at night with BJP’s chief ministerial candidate PK Dhumal losing to his protege and Congress leader Rajinder Rana.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 00:08 IST
Navneet Sharma and Gaurav Bisht
Navneet Sharma and Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Himachal election result,Himachal,BJP
BJP president Amit Shah flashes the victory sign as he is welcomed at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Monday. The party won the assembly elections in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. (PTI Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defeated the Congress to regain power in Himachal Pradesh on Monday, winning close to two-thirds majority with 44 seats in the 68-member assembly.

But the party may have to look for a chief minister as its candidate for the post, Prem Kumar Dhumal, trailed in the Sujanpur constituency to the Congress’s Rajinder Singh Rana, who used to be the senior politician’s “election manager” and knows his family well.

Dhumal called the BJP’s win a “great victory” but refused to speak about his result, which had not been announced until late night; Dhumal lost by 1919 votes to his once-protege and Congress leader Rajinder Rana. Senior BJP leaders rushed to New Delhi, apparently to discuss a new candidate for the top post with the national leadership.

The results stuck to the pattern of Himachal Pradesh’s voters bringing the BJP or the Congress to form the government alternately after every election since 1985.

The Congress, led by six-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh, won 21 seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) took one seat and the remaining two went to Independent candidates.

Singh accepted the party’s defeat. “I own responsibility … It’s the people’s decision to make one victorious. This is their right,” he said.

The BJP got around 49% of the votes, while 42% went to the Congress in the polls that registered record 75.28% polling in the state. The Congress and the BJP had won 36 and 26 seats respectively in the 2012 polls.

This election will be remembered for the defeat of several stalwarts, of which 73-year-old Dhumal was one, and the victory of a new generation leaders such as the Virbhadra’s son Vikramaditya Singh, who won from Shimla (rural), a seat his father used to represent. The chief minister contested from Arki and won.

State BJP chief Satbir Satti and former Rajya Sabha member Maheshwar Singh were prominent losers from the BJP. The Congress list includes Sudhir Sharma, Kaul Singh Thakur, Chander Kumar, Gangu Ram Mushafir and transport minister GS Bali.

For almost two decades, the Congress and BJP have fought almost every assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the state under the leaderships of Singh and Dhumal.

Singh was pushing to return to the helm for the seventh time, while Dhumal is trying to silence detractors within the party as he was marginalised after the 2012 defeat. The BJP made him its chief ministerial candidate a week before the state voted on November 9.

Arch rival Singh rubbed it in on Monday: “I feel sorry for Dhumal and state BJP chief Satpal Satti. Even the Modi magic couldn’t help them.”

The BJP projected Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of its campaign, but changed tack when the Congress highlighted the hardship people faced from the demonetisation exercise and the goods and services tax (GST). The BJP spoke about development and corruption charges against chief minister Singh.

First Published: Dec 18, 2017 23:55 IST