Shimla: The BJP won its war for votes in Himachal but lost its commander in the state. Prem Kumar Dhumal had a standard refrain during his election campaign: Himachal needs two engines to pull its train of development - one at the state and the second at the centre - and that it is only the BJP that can bring together those two engines.
Although Himachal has indeed got its two engines, the driver has been eased out. Dhumal lost by more than 3000 votes to his one-time protege and now arch-rival Rajinder Rana, who contested from Sujanpur near Dhumal's homebase Hamirpur.
Rajinder Rana had been a close affiliate of Prem Kumar Dhumal for almost 10 years before Dhumal became CM for the first time in 1998.
However, when Rana was denied the BJP ticket in the 2012 polls he pulled away from the BJP and contested and won as an independent.
Following his win, he extended support to the Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh. In 2014, he challenged Dhumal's son Anurag Thakur for the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat and lost.
This further widened the rift between the friends turned foes. On November 9, Dhumal and Rana faced off in the Sujanpur Assembly polls. This time Rana contested on a Congress ticket.
Dhumal could have easily won from his home base of Hamirpur, but he was asked to contest from Sujanpur. This was, as some observers say, done to make sure he fights the elections but ultimately loses.
Dhumal's name as CM candidate was announced just about a week before polling, similar to the time when LK Advani announced his candidature three days before 2007 Himachal elections. But this time Dhumal did not prove lucky. The BJP had delayed this announcement and was reportedly searching for other faces just as it had done in neighbouring Haryana when it brought a relatively obscure Khattar out from the woods and made him the chief minister.
However, the delay in announcing the CM face made BJP lose ground. This coupled with pressure from Dhumal to be projected as the CM-in-waiting eventually led to BJP announcing him as their CM face.
A charitable theory on why Dhumal made the politically fatal mistake of contesting from Sujanpur is that he was confident of winning from Sujanpur and considered Hamirpur already in BJP's kitty.
The BJP has already started backroom meetings to figure out who could replace Dhumal as the CM now. Names doing the rounds include Jai Ram Thakur, who has won from the Mandi area and is a four time MLA; union health minister JP Nadda.
Dhumal can also not be entirely ruled out with another winning BJP candidate now offering to resign from his seat to allow Dhumal to contest again.