New Delhi: The BJP headed for a stunning victory today in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, trampling a fragmented opposition that had hoped the demonetisation exercise would have chipped away at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity.
The BJP was also locked in a close contest in Goa and Manipur with the Congress, which won the consolation prize of Punjab where it will form the government.
Modi's party was now set to return to power in Uttar Pradesh after a 14-year gap during which regional parties such as the SP and BSP had held sway.
"The prime minister has clearly established himself as the predominant leader in India," said Aarti Jerath, a political analyst, on NDTV.
BJP president Amit Shah, who crafted and conducted the 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 tweeted.
"BJP has reached new heights in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and changed the political picture of the country," Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said amid scenes of jubilation at party offices in UP.
Party members danced and distributed sweets on streets and BJP offices. Women gathered in groups to watch results on TV danced as the results came in. One party leader said Holi, which will be celebrated on Sunday and Monday, has come a day early.
Terming the BJP victory as "shocking" and "difficult to swallow", BSP leader Mayawati hinted at vote fraud in the elections that were spread over seven phases during the last two months in the five states.
She provided no evidence for her allegation, and it is unlikely to be taken seriously. Her party is expected to finish third.
After five hours of counting, the BJP won or led in 309 seats in UP. Along with its allies Apna Dal (Soneylal Patel)and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), the party will have a comfortable two-thirds majority in the 403-member legislative assembly.
The party had, however, not put forward any chief ministerial candidate. BJP leaders said the decision will be taken by the BJP parliamentary board and the legislature party in the state soon.
The BJP, which had just 47 seats in the outgoing Assembly, garnered 40 per cent vote share in the most riveting contest seen as a gamechanger and a virtual referendum on Modi's popularity and demonetisation.
The party also went to the elections without fielding any Muslim candidate.
The nascent SP-Congress coalition was ahead in only 56 seats while Mayawati's BSP was a distant third leading only in 20 places. The SP, whose campaign was spearheaded by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on development agenda, led in 49 seats.
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 the Congress as a whole. These have to be hard, tough decisions about strategy," Singhvi said.
The previous best showing by BJP in UP was in 1991, at the height of Ram Janam Bhoomi movement, when it got majority on its own winning 221 seats out of 425 in an undivided state.
SP leader and a state minister, Gayatri Prajapati, who is wanted in an alleged gangrape case and attempt to rape a minor, was trailing in Amethi, where Garima Singh (BJP), the first wife of Congress leader Sanjay Sinh, was leading.
Ameeta Singh (Cong), the current wife of Sanjay Sinh, was also trailing.
In Noida, Home Minister Rajnath Singh's son Pankaj Singh was leading by an impressive margin.
The trends also showed BJP's Sangeet Singh Som, who was booked in the Muzaffarnagar riots, leading in Sardhana.
Kailash Vijaywargia, a BJP general secretary, said that the perception that the BJP was a party of the upper castes has been demolished as all sections of the society including Dalits and Muslims voted for it.
"The central government schemes have benefitted everyone.
Muslim women have also benefitted from the schemes. Modi has created confidence in every section," he said.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP put up a splendid show and is leading in 56 seats in the 70-member Assembly while Congress was ahead in only 10 seats. Congress Chief Minister Harish Rawat lost Haridwar (Rural) and Kichcha seats to BJP.
Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad attributed the party's poor show in the politically crucial UP to "public mood" and said its performance will be "scrutinised".
He, however, stressed that Congress' gains in Punjab and likeliness of the party forming government in Goa, ruled by the BJP until before the elections, should not be ignored
In Punjab, the Congress won 16 and was leading in 60 of the 117 constituencies while the AAP, making a debut in Punjab Assembly polls, was in second position winning six seats and ahead in 16.
The ruling SAD was demolished with the party winning one and leading in 13 while its coalition partner BJP led in three seats.
Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh, who is the party's chief ministerial face, thanked people of the state for their overwhelming support.
The Congress legislature party will meet tomorrow to elect its leader, he said.
In Goa, where trends and results were available for 25 seats, the Congress won 11 seats and ruling BJP bagged 10.
They were leading in three and four seats respectively, in what could lead to a hung Assembly whose strength is 40.
The BJP suffered a big reverse when Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar lost to his Congress rival from Mandrem.
Former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat (Congress) won from Margao constituency.
In Manipur, the ruling Congress won 14 seats and was ahead in 10 while the BJP bagged 16 and led in four, according to details available for 40 constituencies.
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, was relegated to the fourth position.