The BJP tightened its stranglehold in the Hindi heartland with assembly victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh while the Congress was set to oust BRS from Telangana on Sunday, the three-one poll score setting the stage and the mood for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
As votes were counted for elections to the four assemblies, the leads and wins threw up a BJP-dominated electoral picture with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's imprint writ large. While the saffron party retained Madhya Pradesh with a projected decisive win, it wrested Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh from the Congress.
The Congress lost those two states but won Telangana from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), the upset in the southern state giving the grand old party at least something to celebrate and the K. Chandrashekhar Rao-led BRS outfit, hoping for a hat-trick, food for thought and introspection.
Interestingly, it is not clear who will be the BJP's chief minister in any of the three heartland states.
Clouds of gulal, shouts of 'Jai Shri Ram', joyful jigs and crackers were the sights and sounds of celebration in BJP offices with party workers and leaders unanimous in attributing the win to Modi's guarantees.
The BJP's Chhattisgarh manifesto, for instance, titled Modi's Guarantees, promised annual financial assistance to married women and landless agricultural labourers, paddy procurement at Rs 3,100 per quintal and cooking gas cylinder at Rs 500 to poor families
"The election results show people accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi's guarantee of delivering on guarantees," Union minister Pralhad Joshi said.
Joshi, who was BJP's election-in-charge for Rajasthan, also took a dig at the Congress and the promises it made in the run up to the elections.
"People have blessed BJP in three states, endorsed Prime Minister Modi's leadership and rejected Congress' false promises," Joshi said.
For the Congress, looking for political revival, and the BRS, it was time to take stock ahead of the general elections just six months away.
Congress' performance in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan assembly polls disappointing, said party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, adding that it will overcome temporary setbacks and prepare fully for Lok Sabha polls along with its partners in the INDIA alliance.
The elections, which set the momentum for the 2024 polls and threw up clear, unambiguous mandates in all four states, saw the BJP and the Congress go head to head in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. And Telangana was a direct contest between the Congress and the BRS.
Madhya Pradesh rang the victory bell loud for the BJP by giving it another term in power with the party winning or leading in 166 seats out of 230, well over the halfway mark, and the Congress trailing at 63.
Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji is in the hearts of the people of Madhya Pradesh. The state is also in the heart of Modi ji, said four-term Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The BJP has been in power in the state for 18 years.
Basking in his hour of glory, he said the state government implemented schemes like the Ladli Lakshmi and Ladli Behna and a lot of work was done for the welfare of farmers, poor people and youth.
Veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath, who had projected himself as the next chief minister, was leading in his own seat Chhindwara but failed to steer his party to victory.
If the BJP looked set to retain power in the central Indian state with a decisive win, it readied to take over from the Congress in neighbouring Rajasthan that has traditionally voted alternately for the two parties.
While the saffron party was winning or was ahead in 115 seats, comfortably over the winning number, the Congress was at 69. Voting was held in 199 seats as polling in one was put off due to the death of a candidate.
The Congress, riven by factionalism, was helmed by Ashok Gehlot in the state with his deputy Sachin Pilot the challenger. The BJP's man would be appointed soon, said Joshi.
On when the name of the new chief minister of Rajasthan will be decided, Joshi said it will happen "very soon and smoothly".
Taking a swipe at Gehlot, born into a family of magicians, Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the magic has ended and people have voted for the honour of women and for the welfare of the poor.
The way we are moving towards a huge majority in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it is clear that the people trust Modi's guarantee and has rejected the Congress' gimmicks (nautanki). Modi magic is the real magic and every other magician has failed, added BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla.
While the trends were clear in the two states, Chhattisgarh was a surprise for many Congress leaders who were hoping for another stint in power in the state.
But it looked increasingly difficult. The day began with both parties neck and neck but, as counting continued, the BJP consolidated its lead and won or was ahead in 57 seats and the Congress in 33 in the 90-member house.
Senior BJP leader Raman Singh told reporters in Raipur that the people had rejected Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. Echoing his party colleagues, he said the people had demonstrated their faith in Modi's work and guarantees and not in Baghel's promises.
The proverbial silver lining in the dark cloud for the Congress was Telangana where it was poised to snatch power from the BRS.
The Congress had won or was leading in 63 seats, leaving the BRS at 40 seats in the 119-member house.
BRS working president K.T. Rama Rao congratulated the Congress and said in a post on X, "Grateful to the people of Telangana for giving @BRSparty two consecutive terms of Government. Not saddened over the result today, but surely disappointed as it was not in expected lines for us. But we will take this in our stride as a learning and will bounce back."
While BRS leaders went into a huddle over reasons for the looming defeat, the day belonged to party Congress chief Revanth Reddy who could well be the next chief minister.
Counting began at 8 am amid tight security and huge anticipation in the four states. Votes in the fifth state that went to the polls, Mizoram, will be counted on Monday.
Together, the five states have 84 Lok Sabha seats—Madhya Pradesh with 29, Chhattisgarh 11, Rajasthan 25, Telangana 17 and Mizoram two.