An intense electoral battle is on the cards in the hills and valleys of Himachal Pradesh with traditional rivals, the Congress and the BJP locking horns in all 68 constituencies and 62 MLAs in the fray.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 10 ministers, eight Chief Parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers are among those who have thrown their hat in the ring.
Speaker BBL Butail opted out in favour of his son Ashish Kumar from Palampur while nomination papers of senior-most minister Vidya Stokes was rejected.
At present, the Congress and the BJP have 35 and 28 MLAs respectively in the 68-member House besides four independents while one seat is vacant.
Of the four Independents Karnesh Jang and Pawan Kajal have been given Congress tickets from Paonta Sahib and Kangra constituencies while the BJP has given tickets to Balbir Verma from Chopal.
Manohar Dhiman, who won as an Independent from Indora was denied ticked by the BJP and is not in the fray.
Two-time MLAs Gobind Sharma and B K Chauhan from Arki and Chamba, veteran BJP and five-time MLA from Jhandutta Rikhi Ran Kaundal and Anil Dhiman, who won the by-election from Bhoranj in April this year, were denied BJP tickets.
B K Chauhan is in the fray as rebel from Chamba.
The BJP has fielded six women candidates while the Congress has given tickets to three women candidates including sitting Rajya Sabha member Viplov Thakur who is contesting from Dehra.
In all 19 women candidates are in the fray
There are 338 candidates in the fray including 16 CPI(M) candidates and over 180 independents and a dozen rebels of Congress including former ministers Singhi Ram (Rampur) and Vijay Singh Mankotia (Shahpur).
Till the 1967 assembly polls, the Congress had a monopoly and barring splinter parties which won two or three seats, Independents filled the gap of opposition.
After merger of Punjab hill areas in November 1966, the assembly polls were held in 1967 and the Congress won 34 out of 60 seats and the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, for the first time won seven seats. Two seats were bagged by CPI, one by Swatantra Party while independents recorded victory on 16 seats.
However, in the 1972 assembly polls, held close on the heels of the Indo-Pak war, the Congress bounced back to power, winning 53 out of 68 seats while the Jan Sangh won five seats and Independent bagged seven seats.
The Congress and the Jan Sangh polled 53.54 and 7.75 per cent votes while Independents cornered 28.27 per cent votes.
The Congress fortress was finally demolished by the Janata wave in 1977, leding to emergence of a two-party system as the Janata Party and the Congress polled 57.19 and 38.38 per cent votes, respectively and won 53 seats and nine seats.
The CPM and the CPI together secured only about two per cent votes.
The Congress staged a comeback in the 1980 Lok Sabha poll, winning all four seats with 52.88 per cent votes as against 36.38 per cent polled by the Janata Party.
The split in the Janata Party led to the emergence of the BJP as the main opposition in the state. It won 29 seats with 35.15 per cent of votes, while the Congress only got 31 seats despite a vote share of 42.52 per cent and failed to get a clear majority.
The Janata Party, the CPI and the CPM accounted for eight per cent of votes.
Riding on the sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi s assassination, the Congress swept the 1984 Lok Sabha elections winning all four seats with a record 67.58 per cent votes. The BJP s percentage dropped to 23.27.
Sensing the mood of the people, the then Congress government went for snap polls, winning 58 out of the total 68 seats while the strength of the BJP was reduced to seven.
However in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won three out of four seats and in the ensuing assembly polls in 1990, the BJP entered into an alliance with Janata Dal and the combination won 58 seats( BJP-47, JD-11) while the Congress got nine seats.
The BJP and the Congress polled 41.77 and 37.35 per cent votes while the JD, which contested 17 seats got 10.82 per cent votes.
In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the two parties shared the two seats each even though the Congress polled 46.16 per cent votes, about 3.5 per cent more than the BJP.
The Congress returned to power with a bang in 1993, winning 54 seats.
The BJP won only eight and its vote share declined to 36.18 per cent while the Congress polled 49.36 per cent votes.
The Congress won all four Lok Sabha seats in the 1996 elections, improving its vote percentage to 54.33 while BJP polled 39.62 per cent votes.
The emergence of the Himachal Vikas Congress, a breakaway faction of the Congress in the 1998 assembly polls, severely dented the Congress vote bank polling 9.63 per cent votes against 43.51 and 39.09 per cent votes polled by the Congress and the BJP a new dimension to the political scene in 1998.
The HVC won only five seats, but led to defeat of the Congress in another 14 seats.
The Congress and the BJP won 31 seats each and the BJP formed a coalition government with HVC.
Ahead of the 2003 assembly polls, the BJP and HVC parted ways and Congress won 43 seats with 41 per votes while BJP got 16 seats with vote share of 35.38 per cent and HVC was decimated to one seat with 5.87 per cent votes.
The BJP won majority on its own in the 2007 assembly polls for the first time and won 41 seats while the Congress won 23 seats and BSP and Independents three and one seat respectively.
The BJP and the Congress polled 43.78 and 39.54 per cent votes.
Ahead of the 2012 polls, BJP dissidents floated the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) which won only one seat but cornered 4.52 per cent votes.
The Congress and the BJP won 36 and 26 seats polling 43.21 and 38.83 per cent votes. Independents candidates polled 15.87 votes and five independents were elected.
This time there is no third force and as Congress and the BJP are returning to power alternately since 1985, the BJP is claiming that it is their turn to stage a comeback.
The Congress is contesting elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh while the BJP has declared former chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal as CM face.
There are 50,25.941 voters in the state including 25,31,321 men and 24,57,032 women.