With pollsters predicting a too-close-to-call election result in Himachal Pradesh, both the Bharatiya Janta Party and the Congress are keeping backroom channels open with independent candidates who could call the shots in case of a photo finish.

Though on record both parties are claiming a clear verdict in their favour, their internal surveys suggest a tough contest that may not throw up a conclusive winner. With barely a couple of days left for counting, both parties are strategising for the possibility of a fractured mandate.

Sources said that instead of stationing himself in his constituency Seraj, chief minister Jai Ram Thakur is expected to stay put in Shimla to supervise efforts to rope in independent legislators in case of a hung assembly, or if the BJP and Congress get an equal number of seats. The saffron party held a strategy session in Dharamsala a few days ago to discuss scenarios if it failed to get a simple majority.

During the polls, the BJP faced a tough challenge from dissidents. At least on a dozen seats, the party faced formidable rebel candidates fuelling indications that some of the independent contenders could play a vital role in government formation.

Prominent rebels from the BJP include those in constituencies like Nalagarh (Solan), Theog (Shimla), Kullu and Banjar (Kullu), and Dehra (Kangra). The Congress, too, is facing a rebel problem in Pachhad (Sirmaur), Chopal (Shimla), Sulah (Kangra), and Theog (Shimla).

State BJP president Suresh Kashyap is already in Delhi to apprise party chief JP Nadda and the central leadership about the expected post-counting day scenario and give feedback about the meeting with the candidates. The Congress too is busy with the post-results strategy though it seems to be already confronted with senior leaders lobbying for chief ministership.

The main contenders for the post include HPCC president Pratibha Singh, chairman of the campaign committee Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mukesh Agnihotri. They have been claiming that the Congress will get a comfortable majority. Like the BJP, the opposition party too has opened channels of communication with its rebels who have contested on some important seats in case they get through.

Some Congress leaders have expressed apprehension that the BJP would indulge in horse trading after counting on December 8 to form the government. Sukhu had claimed that the BJP would not get an opportunity to woo MLAs as the Congress would get a majority on its own.

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