Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday secured an unprecedented landslide victory in legislative assembly polls in India's biggest state Uttar Pradesh.
The elections are considered the first major test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity since his demonetisation move three months ago.
The party also roared back to power in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand with thumping majority, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
BJP's main challenger Congress won comfortably in Punjab and fought hard for its wins in Goa and Manipur states.
BJP's victory in UP would have significant ramifications not only for the composition of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament, but also for the next parliamentary elections in 2019 which the party hopes to win for a second successive tenure.
Some of Modi's key reforms, such as a nationwide sales tax, have come unstuck in the Rajya Sabha where BJP lacks majority. The Rajya Sabha comprises members elected by lawmakers in states' assemblies on the basis of proportional representation with the biggest states supplying the largest number of MPs.
With 325-odd seats in the 403-member UP Assembly secured, according to NDTV, Modi's party has now returned to power in the state with a majority no party has ever seen.
It will mark BJP's comeback in the key political battleground state, which sends the largest number of lawmakers (80) to Lok Sabha, after a 14-year gap during which regional parties such as Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) headed by Mayawati had held sway through their appeals to castes and Muslims.
Modi's closest aide and BJP President Amit Shah, who crafted and implemented BJP's election strategy in UP, credited Modi and his policies for the victory.
“This is the victory of the corruption-free rule and pro-poor polices under the leadership of Modi,” he told a media conference at the BJP national headquarters in Delhi soon after the elections results began pouring in as party activists broke into wild celebrations setting off crackers, distributing sweets and splashing colours.
Shah said election results in the four states clearly established Modi as the “most popular” leader in independent India and the people' mandate was a clear rejection of the politics of dynasty, casteism and appeasement, a clear dig at BJP's main rivals in UP -- SP, BSP and Congress.
Senior BJP leader and Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the party “has reached new heights in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and changed the political picture of the country”.
Terming BJP's victory “shocking” and “difficult to swallow”, BSP supremo Mayawati, a former chief minister of UP, hinted at alleged vote fraud in the elections that were spread over seven phases during the last two months in the five states.
Mayawati suggested that electronic voting machines were tampered with as most of the votes in Muslim-majority constituencies had gone to BJP. Her allegation is unlikely to be taken seriously.
Amit Shah declined to comment on Maywati's charge and said he "can understand her state of mind" after the defeat in the elections.
A decision as to who will be BJP's new chief minister in UP would be made by the party's highest policy-making forum -- the parliamentary board -- and the legislature party in the state soon, Shah said.
BJP, which had just 47 seats in the outgoing UP assembly, bagged 40 percent vote share in a most riveting electoral contest whose result mirrored the outcome of the 2014 parliamentary elections, which brought Modi-led BJP to power, when the saffron party had won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs in the state.
Interestingly, BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in this year's assembly polls in UP which has a sizable Muslim population.
The previous best showing by BJP in UP was in 1991, at the height of the sensitive Ram Janam Bhoomi movement, when it got majority on its own winning 221 seats out of 425 in an undivided state. UP was divided more than 10 years ago and the state of Uttarakhand was created out of it.
Senior BJP leader and federal minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, a key aide to Modi, described the election result in UP as “a tectonic shift in the country's politics”. He said the first message is that this indicates “it is a bigger wave than 2014 [parliamentary] elections and that too after two-and-a-half-year of Modi government.”
Prasad said, “Uttar Pradesh is the 'laboratory of India' and the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'super win has proven Modiji's vision.'”
BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said the perception that BJP was a party of upper castes has been demolished as all sections of the society, including Dalits and Muslims, voted for it in UP.
“People have decided we accept the verdict,” Vijayvargiya said while addressing the media after the election results.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi acknowledged that the party's defeat was massive.
“Yes, UP is a bad loss, it hurts ... I agree that, in UP, we need fundamental restructuring thinking for Congress as a whole. These have to be hard, tough decisions about strategy,” he said.
Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad attributed the party's poor show in UP to “public mood” and said its performance would be “scrutinised”. He, however, stressed that Congress' gains in Punjab and its likelihood to form the government in Goa, ruled by BJP until before the elections, should not be ignored.
In UP's next-door state Uttarakhand, BJP put up a splendid show and won 57 seats in the 70-member assembly while ruling Congress won 11, according to NDTV. Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat lost both seats to BJP.
In Punjab, Congress won 77 of the total of 117 constituencies while Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, making a debut in Punjab Assembly polls, was in second position winning 22 seats. The state's ruling Shiromani Akali and its junior coalition partner BJP finished a distant third having won 18.
In Goa, Congress secured 18 seats and ruling BJP bagged 14 of the 40 seats in play. BJP suffered a major setback in the state with its Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar having lost to his Congress rival from Mandrem.
In Manipur which has a 60-member assembly, ruling Congress won 28 seats while BJP bagged 21, according to media reports.
Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh won from Thoubal Assembly seat by a margin of 10,400 votes.
Rights activist Irom Sharmila, making her poll debut and taking on Singh, was fourth securing just 90 votes, according to The Indian Express.