Shimla, December 28:

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power in Himachal Pradesh today after five years, unseating the Congress and warning that the decline of India’s ruling party had begun.

After delivering a second blow to the Congress in a week, BJP leaders warned that the verdicts in Himachal Pradesh and earlier in Gujarat proved the Congress was bound to lose Lok Sabha elections only 18 months away. BJP general secretary, Sushma Swaraj, gloated in New Delhi: “The BJP victory is not going to be limited to Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. These are trailers of the Lok Sabha election.” The self-congratulatory comments came as the BJP bagged 34 of the 68 seats in the hill state’s assembly and was on the winning track in six more, the Election Commission said.

The Congress, which had decisively won the Himachal polls in 2003, had won only 22 seats and was leading in two more. The Bahujan Samaj Party, which ate into Congress support base, has won one constituency. Independents have bagged three seats. The Himachal outcome overshadowed the celebrations of the Congress party’s foundation in 1885. Himachal Pradesh’s new chief minister is expected to be BJP veteran Prem Kumar Dhumal, who will take the oath of office on Sunday.