BJP supporters celebrating their party's success in Himachal Pradesh
BJP supporters celebrating their party's success in Himachal Pradesh assembly elections outside a counting centre, at Chamba on Monday | PTI
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Party wins 44 seats in Himachal Pradesh, but its CM candidate Dhumal loses in Sujanpur, as does state party chief Satpal Singh Satti in Una.

Chandigarh: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to form the next government in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, but probably without its chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal. On a day when it inched closer to its dream of a Congress-free India, the BJP was in for a big embarrassment, as Dhumal lost his Sujanpur seat.

Himachal continued its unbroken trend of throwing out the incumbent government, with its 50 lakh voters rejecting Virbhadra Singh and the Congress’s attempt to get another term.

The BJP has a clear majority with 44 seats in the 68 seat assembly, just a seat short of equalling its historic score of 45 winners in 1990, and a three-seat plus from 2007, when it formed the government under Dhumal. The Congress has wound up at 21, down from 36 seats in 2012. The surprise win is of a lone CPI (M) candidate, the first time in Himachal since 1993.

The BJP took home 48.7 per cent of the votes polled, a significant 10 per cent higher than its 2012 tally. Its major gains have come from Mandi district, where the Congress was virtually routed this time, followed by Kangra where it won 10 of the 15 seats. Kullu and Chamba too went the BJP way. The party also managed to make inroads in the Congress stronghold of Shimla district.

The Congress did retain 42 per cent of the vote, while independents took home about 6.3 per cent.

Besides anti-incumbency, what worked in the BJP’s favour is that it made corruption a major poll issue, with direct attacks on six-time CM Virbhadra, who is facing CBI and Enforcement Directorate cases for disproportionate assets.

Who will be CM?

The BJP will probably need a new chief ministerial face, because Dhumal – announced as the CM candidate eight days before the polls – has lost Sujanpur, having relocated there from his pet borough of Hamirpur. Another contender, state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti, too has lost Una by almost 3,200 votes. Himachal BJP Mahila Morcha chief Indu Goswami, who could have been considered, has lost the Palampur seat by over 4,300 votes.

Considering these results, the BJP is expected to bring in Union health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda as chief minister. Nadda was considered a front-runner for the post before the announcement of Dhumal’s name.

In terms of caste considerations, Nadda is a Brahmin, compared to Dhumal, a Rajput. Thus, Nadda fits in better if the BJP wants a balancing act, considering that it gave a Rajput – Trivendra Singh Rawat – the CM’s job in the neighbouring hill state of Uttarakhand. The only problem could be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reluctance to let another cabinet colleague lead a state, having lost Manohar Parrikar to Goa and Sarbananda Sonowal to Assam.

If Dhumal is made chief minister despite his loss, he will have to contest again within six months of his being announced as CM.

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