The results of the assembly polls in five states are all set to draw the battle lines between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and the opposition parties, which are trying to come under one umbrella ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
After a month-long campaign, often marked by bitter personal attacks, the people of the five states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram -- have sealed the fates of the candidates in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
While the votes will be counted on December 11, exit polls conducted by various media outlets and survey agencies have predicted the Congress party's return in Rajasthan and a clean sweep for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana.
The polls have also given the Congress an edge over the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in fiercely-contested battles.
The surveys predicted that Mizoram, the only northeast state now with the Congress, may see a hung assembly with the Mizo National Front (MNF) holding the edge.
Political experts feel that the results of the assembly elections will have a direct impact on the country's political equations ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
A favourable outcome for the Congress will establish the political stature of its president, Rahul Gandhi, among the opposition parties. Otherwise, the Congress will have no option but to lay down its weapons before the regional satraps in the Lok Sabha elections.
If the BJP fails to continue its winning streak, as the exit polls indicate, it will be a major blow for the ruling party ahead of the general elections. An aggressive BJP will have to be on the defensive vis-a-vis its allies. In such a situation, the allies may put pressure on the BJP on seat-sharing.
"The results of these elections will have a great impact on national politics. If the Congress wins at least two of the big states, the anti-BJP political parties are bound to come under Congress and will also strengthen Rahul Gandhi's acceptability among the opposition parties," senior political analyst Abhay Dubey told IANS.
The coming months would be crucial for the opposition parties and would see they are coming together to counter the BJP.
The assembly elections are being termed the "semifinal" ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and have created a now-or-never situation for the Congress.
Both the BJP and the Congress know that the election results would also pave the way for a realignment of alliance politics in the future.
The difficulty for the BJP is that it rules three of the five states whereas the Congress has no choice but to ensure positive results.
After the departure of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), other constituents like the Shiv Sena, the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party are attacking the BJP on various issues. Among them, the Shiv Sena has already announced that it will not ally with the BJP in the general elections.
In other parties, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has not given a green signal to a seat-sharing arrangement in Bihar, where the BJP and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) have decided to contest an equal number of seats, angering Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha of the RLSP. He is likely to exit the NDA and join the Mahagathbandhan with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress in Bihar.
The assembly election in the five states is the last hope for the Congress after keeping the BJP out of power in Karnataka by handing over the reins to the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) after the assembly elections earlier this year.
"Success will not only increase Gandhi's political stature but will also revive the (Congress-led United Progressive Alliance) UPA," Dubey noted.
Otherwise, the only option would be to leave it to the regional parties and their satraps to remove the BJP from power because negative results will severely damage Gandhi's image, apart from his soft Hindutva strategy also being questioned.
Professor Badri Narayan of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the outcome of the Assembly polls will have an immense impact on national politics in case the Congress does well.
"The mobilisation in opposition parties will take a new shape and Congress would revive itself as a major political force ahead of the general elections. It will be a major boost for the Congress," Narayan told IANS.
He said if the BJP does better than the Congress in the elections, Modi's journey will continue. "There would no level playing field for the Congress in 2019," Narayan explained.
In Rajasthan, the BJP put in every effort to retain power, with Modi taking charge of the party's campaign. It also banked on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's hardcore Hindutva image.
From Modi to BJP chief Amit Shah, all senior leaders of the party racked up national issues like the surgical strikes, construction of the Ram temple, caste and dynasty to attack the Congress.
"Despite all the efforts of the Modi-Shah duo, if the Congress wins Rajasthan, it will send a clear message that the trust of the people in Modi has gone down," Narayan said.