The Congress is looking at its strongest finish in state elections in recent times, set to sweep Chhattisgarh, ahead in Rajasthan as it flirts with the majority mark and is neck and neck with the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. Votes are being counted today in what has been billed as the semi final before next year's Lok Sabha election.All three states were won five years ago by the BJP, which had also won 60 of the 65 total parliament seats in these states in the 2014 general elections.Votes are being counted today in five states. In Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) is prepping to take oath tomorrow, set to return as Telangana chief minister with a big win in assembly elections. In Mizoram, the Congress is set to lose its last bastion in the north east to the Mizo National Front.With Madhya Pradesh remaining too close to call hours after counting of votes began, the Congress has reached out to Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the GGP (Gondwana Ganatantra Party), sources said. At 3 pm on Tuesday, the Congress was leading in 107 seats - 49 more than it had won in 2013, and the BJP in 112, down 53 seats. A party needs 116 to win a majority in the state's 230 member assembly and form government. The BSP, Samajwadi Party and GGP were leading in one seat apiece, while Independents and smaller parties were leading in four.The Congress shot off the blocks early in Rajasthan and has continued to lead, though by varying margins. The party is now ahead in 102 seats. A party or alliance needs 100 seats to win a majority in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly; voting was held in 199 seats as a candidate died in one constituency. The BJP is leading in 72 seats. In 2013, the Congress had won only 23 seats as the BJP snatched an absolute majority with 163 seats.In Chhattisgarh, the Congress has pulled way ahead, leading in 66 of the state's 90 seats, a gain of 62 seats from last time. A party needs 46 to form government in the state, ruled by the BJP for the last 15 years. The BJP is ahead in 13 seats.The big Congress gains in these heartland states will be a huge morale booster for the party led by Rahul Gandhi who is often taunted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for a series of debacles in state elections since the 2014 general elections. As it lost state after state, the only bright spot was Punjab, which the party wrested from the Akali Dal-BJP combine last year and the small state of Puducherry, which it retained, in 2016.
PM Modi and Amit Shah led the offensive against the Congress in attacking campaigns as the BJP sought a fourth straight term in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and to retain Rajasthan, which it took from the Congress in 2013.In southern state Telangana, the country's youngest, Rao, popularly called KCR, established his supremacy early today, never looking back. His TRS was leading in a whopping 87 seats, way more than the 60 it needs for a majority in the 119 member assembly.The TRS, which spearheaded the Telangana statehood campaign that culminated in the creation of India's youngest state out of Andhra Pradesh in June 2014, took a gamble in September when it opted for early elections almost a year ahead and CM Rao dissolved the assembly.