Riding an anti-incumbency wave, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday swept back to power in Himachal Pradesh winning an absolute majority ousting Congress in the assembly elections capping a year of triumphs in Gujarat, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
Conforming to the cycle of the ruling party being ejected from power in the hill state, the saffron party bagged 41 seats, five short of two-thirds majority in the 68-member assembly. In the outgoing House, BJP had only 19 MLAs.
Congress, which yielded ground to an impressive performance by BJP in all parts of the state, secured only 23 seats, down by 18. The bad tidings came for the party on its 123rd Foundation Day.
The BSP, which played the spoiler for Congress by cutting into its traditional vote bank of Dalits, made its debut in the state winning one seat while Independents took away the remaining three.
P K Dhumal (63), a professor of English literature, who was named BJP's chief ministerial candidate, led the saffron surge winning from Bamsan in Hamirpur district beating his schoolmate and Congress candidate retired colonel B C Lagwal by 26,000 votes.
Dhumal, who also represents Hamirpur in Lok Sabha, is likely to be chosen as the leader of the BJP's Legislature Party on Saturday and may be sworn in for a second term as chief minister on Sunday.
The Congress, which went to the polls under the leadership of grand old man of Himachal politics and five-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, suffered on BJP's campaign plank of corruption, price rise and unemployment.
Three ministers bit the dust in the hustings while Singh survived the saffron sweep retaining his Rohru seat in Shimla district winning by a margin of 14,000 votes. The defeated ministers were Raj Kishan Gaur (Agriculture), Ramlal Thakur (Forest) and Kuldeep Kumar (Industries).
The party appeared to have conceded the race even before it had begun when Singh was harping on his continuing in power till March when the term of the current assembly expires, an implicit admission of defeat.
The saffron surge came on the back of a 11 per cent swing in its favour over the 35 per cent votes the BJP had notched in the last election. The Congress, which had 41 per cent of votes, recorded a slide of two per cent while the debutante Mayawati-headed BSP polled seven per cent. Others accounted for eight per cent.
As BJP cadres broke into celebrations, Dhumal said the party won on its campaign against price rise, unemployment, rampant corruption and the Congress failure to get special development package from the UPA government at the Centre.
Senior Congress leader Vidya Stokes won from Kumarsen after she initially trailed. Former Union Minister Sukh Ram's son Anil Sharma won from Mandi (Sadar).
G S Pali, who was shown in a television sting in the company of bar girls during his birthday party, won the Nagrauta seat in Kangra district. Pali had to resign as minister after the episode.