BJP set to win Himachal Pradesh, but with a loss of face
The BJP is all set to beat the incumbent Congress in north India's hill-state of Himachal Pradesh by winning 44 out of 68 seats. Congress, on the other hand, is ahead on 21 seats while three seats are going to others.
Most exit polls had predicted a result on similar lines. The election, which was held on 9 November, recorded a 75.28% voter turnout - the highest ever in the state with 337 candidates in the fray.
However, the victory of BJP in Himachal came with a jolt in the form of defeat of three of its important leaders, including chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal, who is trailing behind Congress candidate Rajinder Rana from Sujanpur constituency.
The defeat of Dhumal would be an embarrassment for the party as his name was declared as the chief ministerial candidate just 10 days before the election. Two of BJP's other popular leaders - Satpal Singh Satti and Gulab Singh Thakur- were also trailing by huge margin.
While Satpal is the BJP state president of the BJP, Gulab Singh - whose daughter is married to Dhumal's son, Anurag Thakur - has been the BJP MLA from the seat since 2007.
Gulab Singh's defeat comes against Independent candidate Prakash Singh Rana, a billionaire with business interests in Saudi Arabia.
Though the BJP was initially reluctant to announce Dhumal as the chief ministerial face in Himachal, but keeping in mind Dhumal's support base among Thakurs, who account for 28% in the hilly state, his name was announced just 10 days before the elections.
Dhumal’s constituency was shifted from the Hamirpur constituency, from where he is a sitting MLA, to Sujanpur in Hamirpur district.
The race for the CM's chair
On the other hand, incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh won the Arki seat after he vacated his Shimla rural seat in favour of his son Vikramaditya.
BJP sources say that Dhumal's defeat will give Jai Ram Thakur of BJP a chance to lay claim for the CM's position. He won the Seraj constituency in the Mandi district for the party.
He is likely to face a challenge from JP Nadda, who is currently the minister of Parliament and health minister in the Union government. For Nadda, the need to get elected in the state assembly elections within six months from becoming CM may act against him as Jai Ram Thakur has already secured his seat in the state assembly.
In another surprise win, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate in Theog constituency emerged as a sole victor for the party.
Unlike Gujarat, which was fought on national issues like demonetisation and the BJP's Goods and Services tax, the election in Himachal Pradesh were fought on local issues. BJP made corruption and law and order its main plank to win elections in the state.
In his election rally in the hill state, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had claimed that Himachal Pradesh's development model was far ahead of the Gujarat Model.
In its manifesto, the incumbent Congress had talked about employment generation by giving private bus permits to youth to generate self-employment. The party also tried to win job seekers in government jobs by promising to give permanent jobs to contractual employees and daily wagers from within two and five years respectively as against the current norm that takes around five and ten years for the same process.
On the other hand, the BJP made charges of lax law and order and corruption against the Virbhadra Singh headed government in Himachal. This came at the heels of the rape and murder of Gudiya that had rocked the state ahead of elections. Even the murder of forest guard Hoshiar Singh in Bilaspur had become a campaign issue.
In rural Himachal, the BJP played on the issue of price realisation of farm products and irrigation.
The incumbent government also faced corruption charges, with CM Virbhadara Singh himself facing investigation from central agencies on allegations of disproportionate assets.