New Delhi: By managing to get an extra ten out of every 100 voters to its side this time, the Bharatiya Janata Party has secured a comfortable majority in the 68-member Himachal Pradesh assembly. Riding an anti-incumbency wave against the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government, the BJP currently looks all set to secure 44 seats in the house. The Congress on the other hand is headed towards winning 21 seats.
But while the results indicate a complete sweep for the BJP, the Congress could well take solace in the fact that it managed to retain the vote share it had secured in the 2012 assembly elections when it had bagged 36 seats. The party polled 41.8% votes by last count, which was just a shade off the 42.8% votes it had managed to secure in the last elections.
Accepting defeat, Virbhadra Singh tweeted that he respected the mandate of the people. “We accept the mandate, but we carried out immense development in Himachal. For the BJP, it was not people’s strength but money power which came in handy. But in a democracy, more than tact it is people who are more important and we tried our best to bring development to the people. I am thankful to the people for giving me an opportunity to serve them for so many years,” he tweeted in Hindi.
I feel sorry for @BJP4Himachal CM candidate Shri @DhumalHP & state president @satpalsattibjp who lost the elections and Modi Magic could not help them to retain thier seats. Let me reiterate the fact- its not Modi magic but Modi's money which worked in #HimachalPradeshElections
— Virbhadra Singh (@virbhadrasingh) December 18, 2017
Though the final results are still awaited, the leads and wins currently show BJP well ahead. However, it is a bitter-sweet victory for the party. While the party managed to significantly improve its vote share from 38.47% to around 48.7% this time, the man it had projected to be its chief ministerial candidate, two-time former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, was not able to win his Sujanpur seat.
After trailing through the day, he finally lost to Rajinder Rana of the Congress by around 3,500 votes.
What appears to have worked against Dhumal is that he was forced to change his seat this time. He had won the 2012 election from Hamirpur by a margin of 9,500 votes. This time he was made to vacate the seat for his arch-rival and BJP rebel Narendra Thakur who had quit the party in 2003 but who returned to the party just before the polls. Incidentally, Thakur had fought the assembly elections against Dhumal in 2009 and then the Lok Sabha election from Hamirpur against Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur. Some say it was by design that Thakur was accommodated this way and given Hamirpur where he is currently leading by over 5,000 votes.
Dhumal’s loss in the elections would throw open the race for the chief minister’s post. Though BJP has still not declared another name for the post, the big question now is whether it would like to still hand over the reins of the state to Dhumal even though he hasn’t been able to win his seat.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) bagged a seat when its candidate Rakesh Singha defeated Rakesh Verma of the BJP by 1983 votes. Independents won the remaining two seats.
In Dehra, Hoshiyar Singh defeated his nearest rival and sitting MLA of the BJP Ravinder Singh Ravi by over 3,900 votes. Singh had won this seat by 15,293 votes in 2012. Similarly, Prakash Rana, an independent candidate from Jogindernagar, looked all set to defeat sitting MLA, Gulab Singh Thakur of the BJP. At last count, he was leading Thakur – who had won the seat by over 5,900 votes in 2012 – by over 9,000 votes.
The results may have been a setback for Virbhadra Singh, who is the longest serving chief minister of the state after Yashwant Singh Parmar, and was eyeing a record sixth term, but he still managed to win his own seat from Arki comfortably by 6,051 votes by defeating Rattan Singh Pal of the BJP.
His son, Aditya Vikram Singh, who is contesting from Shimla (Rural) also won. He defeated his rival, Pramod Sharma of the BJP, by 4,980 votes. Several of Virbhadra Singh’s ministers, however, lost. Health and family welfare minister Kaul Singh Thakur lost from Darang to BJP’s Jawahar Thakur by 6,541 votes.
In Nagrota, food and civil supplies minister G.S. Bali was trailing at last count in a close contest against Arun Kumar of the BJP, which had seen the two slip into gains and trails repeatedly during the day.
Forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri lost to Jia Lal of the BJP from Bharmour by 7,349 votes. And in Dharamshala, BJP’s Kishan Kapoor defeated urban development minister Sudhir Sharma of the Congress by 2,997 votes. Power minister Sujan Singh Pathania too got a scare in Fatehpur, and at one point trailed BJP candidate Kripal Singh Parmar before finally sailing through by 1,284 votes. Another minister to lose was Prakash Chaudhary, who had the excise portfolio. He lost to Inder Singh of the BJP from Balh by 12,611 votes.
The state which had witnessed a record 74% turnout when it had gone to polls on November 9, is this time voting on a variety of issues ranging from the performance of the Virbhadra Singh government in the state, the corruption cases against him and his family members, the issue of women’s security that was accentuated by the Gudia gangrape case of a student; the anger of people against the manner in which the police botched up the investigation in this case that took place in Kotkhai, and the impact of demonetisation and goods and services tax.
While the Congress had entrusted ‘Raja’ Virbhadra Singh to take charge, the BJP had announced Dhumal as its chief ministerial candidate only as an afterthought. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and a number of union ministers held many rallies in the state. On the other hand, the Congress’s presence was largely confined to then vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s few rallies. The party, it seemed, had got hints about the election outcome and therefore decided to focus its energies on Gujarat.