New Delhi: In a "semi-final" verdict ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP Sunday retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, snatched Rajasthan from the Congress but was denied a clear win in Delhi by the debutant Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) spectacular showing.
So humiliating was the Congress rout in three places -- in Chhattisgarh alone it put up a fight -- that a sombre looking Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the outcome "calls for deep introspection".
"We have to understand to look at the many reasons for this defeat," she said, as leader after leader, looking despondent, sought to argue that the results were no reflection of the national mood.
The victorious Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) disagreed.
BJP MP Smriti Irani said the anti-Congress wave betrayed the popular mood against the party's top leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
"This vote is not only due to bad policies, corruption and inflation but also against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi," she said.
The BJP's best showing came in Rajasthan, where it bounced back to power after five years, sweeping a record 162 seats in the 200-member house and leaving the Congress limping with only 21 seats.
It was the worst result for Congress in Rajasthan, far less than the 41 it won in the post-Emergency 1977 election.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan led the BJP to a facile third victory. The party won 166 seats in the 230-member assembly, up from the 143 it won in 2008.
In contrast, the Congress tally slumped from 71 to 57.
The BJP huffed and puffed before snatching victory from a fighting Congress in Chhattisgarh, with Chief Minister Raman Singh claiming victory after eight hours of nail-biting suspense.
The BJP ended up with 49 of the 90 seats -- one less than last time. The Congress settled for 39 -- one more than in 2008.
The national capital threw up the most stunning verdict, ending 15 years of Congress rule and leaving it punctured with just eight seats in the 70-member legislature.
The BJP finished with 31 seats, five short of a simple majority, thanks to a tsunami of Arvind Kejriwal's one-year-old AAP.
Kejriwal earned the grudging admiration of even his foes as his party, born out of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement, won a solid 28 seats, triggering frenzied celebrations.
The Ramon Magsaysay award winner said the AAP would play the role of "a constructive opposition". He added that the AAP's showing marked the start of "honest politics" in India. "Ours is a historic win."
Kejriwal himself defeated Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency. A humiliated Dikshit resigned, and Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung dissolved the outgoing house.
Pundits and political parties debated the significance of the electoral verdict vis-a-vis the coming Lok Sabha battle - at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is battling multiple problems that include rising food prices, corruption charges and political mismanagement.
In a public admission rare among politicians, Sonia Gandhi said "many people were obviously unhappy (with the Congress)".
BJP president Rajnath Singh said part credit for the result should go to Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister who has injected new life into the party -- which looked sagging only a year ago -- since he was named its prime ministerial candidate in September.
"BJP got the affection of people because of the popularity of its chief ministerial candidates and our prime ministerial candidate," he said.
Despite the all-round losses, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi -- who was pitted against Modi in the election campaign -- put up a brave face.
He said the Congress would learn from its defeat and vowed to "give you a party you will be proud of".
"The Congress has the ability to stand up to the expectations of the people," Gandhi said.
Added Sonia Gandhi: "We will introspect seriously and take all necessary action... We will rectify our mistakes."