In the end, the score was 3-1 in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and with a year to go before the general election, this was exactly the result that the party was looking for.
It wrested three major states from the Congress -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. For the Congress, the only saving grace was Delhi, where Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit comfortably beat the challenge posed by the BJP's Madan Lal Khurana. The final tally here was Congress 47, BJP 20 and others 3.
For the saffron party the overall result was unexpected. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said as much. "We didn't expect this. We thought it would be two-two," he said before leaving for Abuja, Nigeria.
The big news of the day was Madhya Pradesh, where Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's 10-year reign came to a crashing end. In fact, so dramatic was the fall that by 1000 IST, just two hours after counting started, Singh conceded defeat. He told Doordarshan News that he was "disappointed and surprised" by the results. He said he would keep his promise of not taking any organisational post or fighting elections for 10 years.
The BJP won 172 seats in the 230-member legislative assembly. The ruling Congress, which had 124 seats in the last assembly, had won only 39. The others accounted for 19 seats.
In Rajasthan it was a similar story. When trends were coming in, the BJP's chief ministerial candidate, Vasundhara Raje, was asked if the party would need the support of smaller parties to form government. Her reply was prophetic: "I don't think there will be a photo-finish."
The BJP won 119 of the 200 seats; the Congress got 57 and other parties bagged 24. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot followed his MP counterpart and said his party would provide meaningful opposition.
The setback in Chhattisgarh was the final nail in the coffin. With the BJP's chief ministerial aspirant Dilip Singh Judeo embroiled in a bribery scandal, it seemed that the Congress would have the upper hand. But once the results began emerging, Chief Minister Ajit Jogi shut himself inside his official residence, perhaps unable to comprehend the turnaround.
At 2130 hours results for 89 out of 90 seats had been declared. The BJP had bagged 50, Congress 36, Bahujan Samaj Party 2, Nationalist Congress Party 1. The result of Bijapur seat was yet to be declared.
Everyone wanted to know what the BJP's next move would be; whether it would call for snap polls to the Lok Sabha.
No, said Vajpayee. "Still one year left"
Asked by a satellite channel what Vajpayee meant when, on Wednesday, he asked BJP members of Parliament to start preparing for the general election, BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan explained: "These victories came after a year of preparation. Similar is the case with the Lok Sabha election. That is what Vajpayeeji meant."
Before leaving for Nigeria, the prime minister had called a meeting at his 7, Race Course residence to review the party's performance. Among those present were Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu and Mahajan.
After the meeting, Naidu said the issue of snap polls was not even discussed. But he sought to link the victories with the National Democratic Alliance's performance under Vajpayee's leadership. "The victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattishgarh are an endorsement of the NDA's policies."
Whatever be the case, the BJP can cheer now. As for the Congress, all it can do now is get back to the drawing board and, in the words of its leaders, "assess where we went wrong."