India’s youngest state Telangana, fresh from the first state assembly election since its creation in 2014, has seen a potential new power in Indian politics emerge after the results were announced on Tuesday.

K Chandrashekar Rao, known by all as KCR, has led his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party to a landslide victory. Rao had emerged as as a state hero when he headed a massive movement to create Telangana by separating it from Andhra Pradesh. His welfare schemes since the state was formed in 2014 are thought to have helped the party’s smooth sailing in the polls.

The incumbent TRS clinched a definitive 88 seats compared to the 63 seats they had won in 2014, at the cost of almost all the other parties in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which boasted that its power would only increase in these elections, lost four of its five seats.

TRS’ non-alliance partner All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) managed to maintain its seven-seat tally. Results for the Congress were disappointing, with a net loss of two seats to 19. This came as a blow, considering they and their alliance partners were at one point serious contenders for the Telangana throne.

Exit polls didn’t quite predict the scale of the TRS mandate, leading to many stakeholders holding out hopes that were not to be realized in Telangana.

On Monday afternoon, the leaders of Prajakutami, or People’s Front, the Congress-led pre-poll alliance of four parties, met with Governor ESL Narasimhan. They asked him to consider the seats of the four parties as a single entity and to invite the pre-poll coalition to form the government if they should cross the majority mark.

However ultimately, caretaker chief minister (interim until the elections were held) and TRS chief Rao had the last laugh. While his daughter and Member of Parliament from Nizamabad, K Kavitha said that their victory was never in doubt, its magnitude might have come as a surprise even to the party.

It definitely surprised other contenders. BJP state president K Laxman had said his party would play a “vital role” in the formation of the government as it did not look like any party would be able to secure a majority. In doing so, Laxman indirectly extended support to the TRS. His offer was rebuffed by TRS and Laxman himself would go on to lose his seat.

Big player washed out

The once fierce Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which holds power in the Andhra Pradesh government, fared terribly in the election, with their seat tally plummeting from 12 to two. TDP was in the four-party Congress alliance.

The other two alliance partners – Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and Communist Party of India (CPI) – failed to win a single seat. Apart from these parties, All India Forward Block, which fielded a rebel TRS candidate, won one seat and another went to a rebel Congress candidate contesting as an independent.

The BJP did not fare well. In addition to state president Laxman, the BJP’s floor leader in the assembly, G Kishan Reddy also lost Amberpet which he had held for the past three terms, thus decimating the party’s state leadership. The sole remaining representative of the party in the assembly is Raja Singh, who retained Goshamahal after a close contest with TRS. The firebrand Hindutva leader had announced that when BJP formed the government in Telangana, Hyderabad would be renamed as Bhagyanagar, a sentiment echoed by Yogi Adityanath on the Telangana campaign trail.

All of the KCR family retained their respective seats. Harish Rao won Siddipet with a massive margin of more than 100,000 votes, and with that became the youngest politician to have been a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) six times (including by-elections). KT Rama Rao, the CM’s son and former IT minister, won comfortably by a margin of at least 89,000 votes. KCR also won with twice as many votes as his nearest rival.

Congress weakened

The Congress captured some new seats—Bradrachalam, Mulug, Manthani, Bhupalpalle, and Pinapaka—in the Naxal-affected north-eastern part of the state, but also lost several of its southern constituencies such as Gadwal, Nagarjuna Sagar, Alampur and Nalgonda. Its total number of assembly seats dropped from 21 in 2014 to 19.

The grand old party has been particularly stunned by the defeats of many of its strong candidates with a history of wins in their respective constituencies. Congress’ state unit president Uttam Kumar Reddy squeezed through by just over 4000 votes in Huzurnagar, but his wife Padmavathy Reddy lost Kodad. Aruna DK, from an illustrious political family, who has been the MLA for Gadwal for three consecutive terms, lost her constituency to TRS. Former Congress home minister Jana Reddy also lost his seat while serial defector Konda Surekha, who has been a MLA since 1999 (though with several different parties) lost Parkal.

TJS, a promising addition to the alliance with its roots in activism, took only 0.5% of the vote, losing all eight seats it contested. Another leader of the alliance, CPI chief Chada Venkat Reddy, was defeated in Husnabad, wrapping up the alliance’s sorry showing in the polls.

Congress has blamed EVM-rigging for the bad results, with Uttam Kumar Reddy saying in a statement,  “Going by the distorted trends, in the counting of EVM machines, there is a strong suspicion that EVM machines have been manipulated. We demand that 100% counting of VVPAT paper trails must be taken up in all constituencies. All Congress candidates should submit letters to their returning officers demanding the counting of VVPAT paper trails.”

The party also submitted a letter to the chief electoral officer requesting counting of VVPAT papers in all assembly segments of the state. If they choose to do so, they might even decide to pull up the spectre of Telangana’s missing 2.2 million voters which has come as a great embarrassment to the state election commission.

Welfare schemes worked

Political analyst Professor G Haragopal believes that this resounding mandate has come about thanks to of a slew of welfare schemes introduced by KCR. These include the farmers’ subsidy scheme Raithu Bandhu, distribution of free or subsidized cattle, drinking water projects like Mission Bhagiratha and sops for the unorganized sector. “Even those who haven’t been able to avail (themselves of) these schemes yet are hoping that giving the government another term will mean completion of these projects,” he said, noting that they might have feared the scuttling of these projects if a Congress government was voted into power.

KCR is now set to focus on national politics and to present TRS as an alternative to both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is something he reiterated several times ahead of the polls and was careful to mention at the press conference on Tuesday evening. This mandate is exactly what he had been hoping for when he dissolved the assembly in September, six months ahead of the completion of its term.

Just like his counterpart TDP in Andhra Pradesh, KCR had also been looking to set up a regional front for the 2019 general elections. But unlike Chandrababu Naidu who is pitching for Congress at the core of such an alliance, KCR has been pushing the idea of an anti-BJP, anti-Congress third front.

It remains to be seen if KCR’s resounding mandate will be enough to attract other hitchhikers along on his promised ride to the top, or if he will simply choose to leverage his position to negotiate better with the BJP.

(With input from Mahesh Bacham)