Shimla: The Congress returned to power in Himachal Pradesh after five years, defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party by a handsome margin on Thursday. The Congress put up a spirited campaign under former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to emerge victorious by a comfortable margin. Being pitched as a strong CM contender, Singh led his party while winning Shimla(Rural) constituency defeating his BJP rival Ishwar Rohal by 19,033 votes.
Even though the BJP tried to corner the Congress by trying to raise the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders brought by the Central Government, which political experts had said could have harmed the Congress's vote share, Singh defied the pollsters by leading his party from the front and bring cheers in party.
BJP leader and Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal conceded defeat as Congress easily crossed the half-way mark of 36 in the 68-member Assembly. "We will discuss the poll results and the reasons. We have to see where we failed," Dhumal, who won from the Hamirpur seat defeating his nearest Congress rival Narinder Thakur by a margin of over 9,500 votes, said.
While the Congress has won the elections, it now remains to be seen who the Chief Minister will be even as Virbhadra Singh is the frontrunner. Singh had resigned from the Union Cabinet after a special court framed charges against him in a graft a case but the Congress high command appointed him state party president to lead the party in the assembly polls.
On Wednesday, Singh gave more than subtle signals that he would like to become the next chief minister. "I have done my duty which was assigned to me; that was to fight the election and bring the party back to power. That I hope I will be able to perform successfully."
"As to who will lead the state...at present I am leading state as PCC President. And who will be the chief minister that will be decided by Soniaji." He said this when asked who will become the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh if the Congress party gets majority.
Singh also saw no possibility of the Congress high command imposing an outsider as the Himachal chief minister. "I can only say I don't expect this will happen," he said when asked whether a person from outside could lead the government of Congress if the party comes to power. Singh was also dismissive of suggestions that Union Minister Anand Sharma, his known detractor in state politics, stands a chance to become the chief minister. Anand Sharma also ruled himself out of the race to be the Himachal Pradesh chief Minister.
As many as 33.49 lakh voters had exercised their franchise in the one-day polling on November 4 and sealed the fate of 459 candidates including Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and HPCC chief Virbhadra Singh. The state recorded highest polling of 74.70 per cent which was slightly higher than the 74.51 per cent polling in 2003.
Himachal horticulture minister Narinder Bragata was defeated from Jubbal and Kotkhai seat in Shimla district. He lost to Rohit Thakur of Congress by about 8,000 votes. Education minister Ishwar Dass Dhiman retained his Bhoranj seat defeating Romesh Chand of Congress by 10,062 votes.
Rural development and Panchayati Raj Minister Jairam Thakur won from Seraj. He defeated Tara Thakur of Congress. State BJP president Satpal Singh Satti retained the Una seat defeating Satpal Singh Raizada of Congress by 4,601 votes. Leader of opposition in Vidhan Sabha Vidya Stokes won from Theog.
(With additional information from PTI)