New Delhi Correspondent

India’s main opposition party Congress led by Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday wrested back power in two key heartland states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh toppling ruling Bharatiya Janata Party spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in assembly elections whose outcome is seen as a prelude to the voter mood a few months ahead of parliamentary polls.

The Congress and the BJP were locked in a neck-and-neck race for power in another important heartland state of Madhya Pradesh. Out of the total number of 230 seats in the assembly, the Congress is so far leading in 111 while the BJP in 110. Smaller parties like Bahujan Samaj Party are leading in a few seats and hold key to a new government-formation with the simple majority mark being 116.

The Congress’ ten-year rule in the north eastern state of Mizoram was ended by another regional party Mizo National Front which regained power. The Congress also suffered a drubbing in the southern state of Telangana where ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, a regional outfit, retained power on the back of a landslide victory defying anti-incumbency and justifying TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao’s decision to call the assembly polls eight months ahead of schedule.

The Congress’ win in the three key states handed Modi his biggest defeat since he became the PM in May 2014 and months ahead of a general election due by April next. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are the states that had powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election. The BJP has been in power for the last 15 years

Analysts say the big loss for the BJP reflected farmers’ anger over weak farm prices, slow growth in rural wages, lack of adequate number of jobs and small businesses being hit by demonetization and a nationwide goods and service tax are the main reasons for the BJP’s electoral setbacks in heartland India.

In Madhya Pradesh, it was a see-saw battle between BJP, which has been ruling the state for the last 15 years, and Congress the picture changed minute to minute. The Congress, which had just 58 seats in the outgoing Assembly in Madhya Pradesh, was leading in 111 seats while the BJP was ahead in 110.

In Chhattisgargh, the Congress led in 64 seats out of the total of 90 seats relegating the BJP to a distant second spot with 18 seats as per latest trends available for the state.  The saffron party has been governing the state for the last 15 years.

In the desert state of Rajasthan which has a 200-strong assembly, the Congress was ahead in 97 seats, three short of the magic number of 100 and the BJP in 75, according to the website of the Rajasthan chief electoral officer. The BJP had won the previous state assembly polls in 2013 by defeating the Congress. In fact, no ruling party has so far succeeded in retaining power in successive elections since 1993.

 

Congress workers set off crackers, danced to the dhol and played with ‘aabir’ as they celebrated the party’s good showing in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Carrying the party flag, a large number of workers gathered at the party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi and hailed Congress President Rahul Gandhi.  By contrast, the BJP national headquarters in central Delhi wore a relatively deserted look.

 

In Telangana, trends indicated an emphatic landslide verdict for TRS with leads in 90 seats out of a total of 119 seats in the assembly. The Congress was way behind with leads in 16 seats, according to the Election Commission. The BJP was ahead in one and the TDP in two.

 

The Mizo National Front (MNF) got a simple majority bagging 26 of the 40 seats at stake dislodging the Congress which bagged five. Mizoram Chief Minister and Congress candidate Lal Thanhawla lost from both his home turf Serchhip and Champhai South seats.