Hectic political parleys marked the eve of counting of votes for five state assemblies, billed as semi-finals before the 2019 national polls, with the Congress asserting that the mandate from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram on Tuesday would send a 'clear message' against the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
Rejecting the exit-poll results, most of which have forecast gains for Congress in at least four states including a clear majority in Rajasthan, the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders said the final results should be awaited even as they sought to delink the state polls from the next year's Lok Sabha elections.
However, the stock markets reacted negatively with the benchmark Sensex plummeting by over 700 points on Monday, tracking the exit poll results.
On the other hand, opposition parties appeared emboldened with Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party quitting the ruling National Democratic Alliance to join their ranks on a day when a number of non-BJP parties came together on a single platform in what was seen as their show of strength.
In Telangana, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi met interim chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao to extend his support and said he was sure about the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti coming back to power, while the BJP also hinted at its possible support.
The Congress-led alliance, however, appeared upbeat that it would get the mandate to dislodge KCR, as the chief minister is popularly known, and form the next government.
It also told Governor E S L Narasimhan that it should be treated as a single entity in the event of no party getting a clear majority.
For Madhya Pradesh, senior Congress leader Kamal Nath exuded confidence that his party would get at least 140 seats to form a majority government.
Counting of votes for the five state assemblies would begin at 8 am on Tuesday and a clear trend is likely to emerge by afternoon.
Exit polls have mostly forecast a tight-race between the ruling BJP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Chhattisgarh, while many of them have given a clear majority to the Congress against the ruling BJP in Rajasthan.
For Telangana, exit polls have been divided between the TRS and the Congress-led opposition alliance.
Same is the case for Mizoram where the ruling Congress is being challenged by its arch-rival in the state, Mizo National Front, while the BJP is also separately in fray.
Ahead of the results, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said people will give a 'clear message' in form of results for the five assemblies and exuded confidence that the BJP would be ousted in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Over 8,500 candidates were in fray in polls for these assemblies and their electoral fate is currently sealed in over 1.74 lakh EVMs, stored in over 670 strongrooms across the five states.
A total of 678 assembly seats across five states went for polls, after polling was countermanded in one seat in Rajasthan due to death of a candidate.
Tight security arrangements have been made for the counting, especially in Chhattisgarh where at least 12 assembly seats are in Naxal-affected areas.
Besides, there have been allegations related to the electronic voting machines.
These assembly elections are being seen as crucial for the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections as it is in power in three of these states -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress is in power in Mizoram, while the TRS ruled Telangana before the assembly was dissolved there.
The BJP is trying for a fourth term in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and is seeking to retain power in Rajasthan.
The three states also played a significant role for the BJP in the 2014 general elections, when it had won 62 out of the total 65 Lok Sabha seats.
The elections are also significant for Congress, which is out to challenge the BJP's rule in three states and protect its last bastion in the North-East, where Mizoram remains the only state not under the rule of BJP-led NDA. The eight North-East states together have 25 Lok Sabha seats.
In the multi-phase polling, Chhattisgarh voted on November 12 (18 seats) and November 20 (72 seats); Madhya Pradesh (230 seats) and Mizoram (40 seats) on November 28; and Rajasthan (199 seats) and Telangana (119 seats) on December 7.
In the 2013 elections in Mizoram, the Congress had won 34 seats, while the MNF got five and the Mizoram People's Conference bagged one seat.
Since 1987, Mizoram has been ruled by either Congress or the MNF, while the BJP is yet to win an assembly seat there.
In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP has been in power for three consecutive terms, while Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government Rajasthan is seeking to defy a recent trend of the saffron party and the Congress being in power alternately.
KCR-led TRS had formed the first government of the country's youngest state in 2014 after it was carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
In the maiden polls for the 119-seat Telangana assembly, 1821 candidates were in fray and a voter turnout of 73.20 per cent was recorded.
Chhattisgarh recorded 76.60 per cent voter turnout, while the same for Madhya Pradesh was 75.05 per cent. Rajasthan recorded over 74 per cent voting, while it was nearly 80 per cent in Mizoram.