The Congress on Thursday got an absolute majority in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, winning 40 seats - six over than the half-way mark of 34 in the 68-member House, while the outgoing BJP was reduced to 25.
Acknowledging the adverse mandate, outgoing Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, under whose leadership the BJP went into the polls, told the media here: "I respect the people's mandate and I want to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Central leadership during last five years. We will stand for the development of the state irrespective of politics. We will also analyse our shortcomings and improve during the next term."
Thakur, who was banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charisma, submitted his resignation to the Governor, who accepted it.
Many of the outgoing ministers including Suresh Bhardwaj, Ram Lal Markanda, Sarveen Chaudhary, Rakesh Pathania, Govind Thakur, Virender Kanwar, and Rajiv Saizal lost the election.
Three Independents, comprising two BJP rebels and one Congress, emerged victorious.
Himachal Pradesh has not voted any incumbent government back to power since 1985.
Thakur, 57, retained his stronghold Seraj in Mandi from where he has won six consecutive elections -- 1998, 2003, 2007, 2012, 2017 and 2022 -- by a margin of over 22,000 votes over Chet Ram of the Congress.
Prominent victorious Congress leaders included journalist-turned-politician and prospective Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri, 60, from Haroli - for the fourth time, former state party chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, 58, from Nadaun, the seat he is representing fourth time in Hamirpur district, former Urban Development Minister Sudhir Sharma from Dharamsala, Rajinder Singh Rana from Sujanpur, Col. Dhani Ram Shandil, 82, from Solan, and second-time lawmaker Vikramaditya Singh, son of six-time Chief Minister late Virbhadra Singh.
Six-time Congress MLA Asha Kumari lost her stronghold Dalhousie from her nearest rival and BJP candidate D.S. Thakur by a margin of 9,918 votes. Asha Kumari was among the Chief Ministerial probables.
In the 2017 assembly elections, the BJP had won 44 seats and the Congress 21, with one seat going to CPI-M, and two to Independent candidates.
Responding to the poll outcome, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "I thank the people of Himachal Pradesh for the affection and support for the BJP. We will keep working to fulfil the aspirations of the state and raise people's issues in the times to come."
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who didn't campaign in the state, thanked the voters for the Congress' win.
"Heartfelt thanks to the people of Himachal Pradesh for this decisive victory. Hearty congratulations to all Congress workers and leaders. Your hard work and dedication really deserves the best wishes for this victory. I assure you again, every promise made to the public will be fulfilled at the earliest," he said.
Considering the family legacy and contribution, Congress state unit chief Pratibha Singh had sought votes in the assembly polls on development carried out by her husband Virbhadra Singh during his six terms as the Chief Minister.
Pratibha Singh, who has not contested the Assembly polls, has been projected as the prospective Chief Minister too.
Coming out openly after retaining his Shimla (Rural) seat for the second consecutive term, Vikramaditya Singh said: "We will form a government with a full majority... She (Pratibha Singh) is one of the contenders for the CM post."
Pratibha Singh, who won the Mandi seat in the 2021 Lok Sabha bypoll, missed no opportunity to remind the electorate that the victory in assembly election "will be a tribute to him (Virbhadra Singh)".
"Not only the Congress supporters but also from other parties voted for us as a tribute for Virbhadra Singh," she said.
Mincing no words, Pratibha Singh told the media after the party's straight win that the family of Virbhadra Singh has played an important role in this election and considering the contribution of Virbhadra Singh for the state, then party President Sonia Gandhi appointed her the state president.
Well ahead of the Assembly polls, the Congress had appointed the three-time MP as the state unit president.
Pratibha Singh had spearheaded the poll campaign on the legacy of Virbhadra Singh, never missing an opportunity to remind voters for development and work initiated by her late husband.
She banked on the party's promise to bring back the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) that will benefit 225,000 employees, a crucial vote bank.
Reposing faith in the party legislators, Pratibha Singh told the media: "People have given us the mandate. We can meet (our MLAs) anywhere, including Chandigarh or in the state. Those who have won will be with us and we will form the government."