The Congress accepted defeat in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi before noon on Sunday and the vote count trends gave it only a miniscule chance in Chhattisgarh.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, while accepting defeat, congratulated her opponents. Importantly, she said the Congress will name its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok sabha elections at an "opportune time".
"It's time for deep introspection," she added.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said that Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party performed well in Delhi because they included people which the regular parties wouldn't have. "We will learn from them and do a better job in a way you can't even imagine," he told reporters.
The BJP soared high in all four states, but Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stole the show on debut.
Kejriwal pulled off the giant-killing act of the state polls, beating three-time Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit in the prestigious New Delhi constituency.
Even before she lost, Dikshit tendered her resignation to the lieutenant governor as the Congress hurtled towards its worst performance in the state, where the first assembly polls were held in 1993.
The AAP made a strong start in Delhi, looking on track to emerge as one of the big stories of the state elections.
The AAP established leads in 29 seats, giving a tough fight to the BJP, which won 32 seats. The incumbent Congress won 8 seats, its worst ever loss.
One of AAP’s key candidates, Shazia Ilmi, however, suffered an extremely close loss. The former journalist lost to the BJP’s Anil Sharma by 340 votes from RK Puram constituency in south Delhi.
In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, BJP activists began celebrations early.
Early pointers were gloomy for the Congress in Rajasthan and it stayed that way as the ruling party slid to its worst ever performance in the desert state.
As early as 11am, chief minister Ashok Gehlot gave a hint that he was conceding defeat. “We failed to showcase or development work,” said Gehlot. He won from Sardarpura.
Vasundhara Raje, the BJP’s central figure in Rajasthan, claimed a landslide win for the party within an hour of Gehlot’s statement. “We dedicate this win to the people of Rajasthan and workers who toiled hard,” said Raje, who won from Jhalrapatan.
The saffron party has an overall lead in 154 seats. The ruling Congress is struggling, with leads in only 23 seats.
In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan won from both Vidisha and Budhni as he looked assured of a hat-trick.
The BJP is leading in 157 seats and the Congress in 65.
Hat-trick seeking Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, however, has a fight on his hands. The BJP has little breathing space as the plot is turning in a couple of rounds of counting.
Pollsters had picked Chhattisgarh as the only state that would see a photo finish and trends seem to be following the script.
Officials on Sunday began counting the millions of votes cast in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi in keenly fought elections tipped to impact the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Around 83 million voters exercised their franchise in the November-December elections.
In the run-up to the vote count, most exit polls had given the BJP the edge in all four states.
The state elections have been billed as the semi-final before the final battle in the Lok Sabha elections due by April-May 2014.
They have also been projected as a popularity test for Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee and Gujarat chief minister.
He was the Hindu nationalist party’s star campaigner in all four states and did not hold back. He attacked the top Congress leadership with ferocity. The Congress, on the other hand, largely chose to ignore his barbs.
For the BJP, victory in these four states, which account for 72 of the total 543 Lok Sabha seats, would strengthen Modi’s bid to bring the saffron party back to power at the Centre after 10 years.
The Congress, however, is trying to delink Sunday’s poll results from the Lok Sabha elections next year.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the party will go into the 2014 general elections with self-confidence “irrespective of assembly election results.” Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh told HT, “These results will have no bearing on 2014 Lok Sabha elections.”
A Congress leader also pointed out that the party had lost Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to the BJP in December, 2003, but won the Lok Sabha elections five months later.
The PM has acknowledged that the challenge posed by Modi must be taken seriously, but also said the Congress’ confidence will remain intact whatever the result of the current round of assembly elections.
“I want to put it very seriously... There is no room for complacency,” Singh had said, inaugurating the 11th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Delhi, on Friday.
“The Congress is going to the election with a sense of self-confidence and that should not be mistaken, whatever the outcome of the assembly elections. As an organised political party, we cannot underestimate the power of opposition to unsettle the ship,” he had said, responding to a question on whether Modi was a challenge.
A favourable poll outcome will give the BJP ammunition to attack the Congress-led UPA government during the ongoing winter session of Parliament and scuttle any move to bring in the controversial, eight-year-old communal violence bill that currently has the House divided.