The Bharatiya Janata Party stormed back to power in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, trouncing its main rival Samajwadi Party, with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asserting that people have buried the politics of caste and religion.
The saffron party with its allies was won 274 seats out of 403, becoming the first party in over three decades to form a government for a second consecutive time in the state.
The Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav and its allies lost after a spirited bid to dislodge the BJP, winning in 126 seats, while national parties like the Congress (two seats) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (one seat) were reduced to insignificance in the race.
As counting of votes continued late into the night, Adityanath had established a lead of 1.3 lakh votes over his nearest rival Subhawati Shukla of the SP in the Gorakhpur Urban constituency.
However, his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya lost in Sirathu by 7,337 votes to SP's Pallavi Patel.
Influential OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya, who quit the BJP and the Adityanath cabinet to join the SP ahead of the assembly elections, lost in Fazilnagar by more than 45,000 votes.
The BJP was winning or leading in 254 seats, Apna Dal (Sonelal) and the NISHAD party, the two allies of the BJP, won 12 and six seats respectively, according to the Election Commission (EC) website.
In the opposition camp, the SP was winning or leading in 112 seats and its allies Rashtriya Lok Dal has eight seats and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party had won six seats.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Adityanath's feat and suggested that the victory in Uttar Pradesh will pave the wave for the BJP's win in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Lauding BJP workers for ensuring an early Holi by making the party victorious in four states, Modi said its vote share has increased in Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Goa even though it was in power in the states.
The party has also retained power in Uttarakhand.
In Lucknow, addressing joyous BJP workers at the party's state headquarters, Adityanath said the 'misleading' campaign run by the Opposition over the past 2-3 days has been set aside by the people who reposed faith in the good governance of the BJP.
He was apparently targeting Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav over EVM tampering allegations.
"The false propaganda regarding EVMs and election material over the last few days have been rejected," Adityanath said.
"The People of UP have buried the dynastic politics and also politics of caste and religion by ensuring victory to the BJP and its allies," Adityanath, who was the BJP's face in Uttar Pradesh polls, said.
According to the EC website at 10.30 pm, results had been declared on 369 seats, while counting was going on 34 seats.
Dara Singh Chauhan, another minister who had quit the cabinet along with Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini to join the SP, has won the Ghosi seat by 22,216.
Saini lost the elections to BJP's Mukesh Choudhary by 315 votes.
State Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu was languishing at the third spot in the Tamukhi Raj assembly constituency, according to the EC website.
Amid the rout of the party, Congress legislature party leader Aradhana Mishra won from her family's traditional Rampur Khas constituency in Pratapgarh district.
According to the EC, the BJP's vote share stands at 41.3 percent, while that of the SP stood at 32 per cent.
The vote share of the BSP is 12.9 percent and that of the RLD is 2.93 percent.
The vote share of the Congress is 2.37 percent while that of the Aam Aadmi Party and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was less than 0.5 percent each.
Though it registered a landslide victory in Punjab, the AAP filed to open its account in Uttar Pradesh where it contested on all 403 seats.
Similar was the fate of Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi headed AIMIM which had fielded candidates in 100 seats.
Excited BJP supporters smeared colour (gulal) on each other and rolled out bulldozers in Lucknow, Gorakhpur and Varanasi among other places to celebrate the victory.
Adityanath, who is generally referred to as 'Maharaj ji', earned this new sobriquet of 'bulldozer baba' during the current elections due to his frequent reference of the heavy machine that authorities deployed to raze the ill-gotten property of criminals and mafias in the state under his rule.