In a dramatic turn of events since the 2014 general election, the Samajwadi Party was on Wednesday set to wrest from the BJP the two Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh that had been vacated by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya.
As the vote count moved towards the final rounds, Samajwadi Party candidate from Gorakhpur Praveen Nishad had secured 334,463 votes, with the Bharatiya Janata Party's Upendra Dutt Shukla at the second spot with 308,593 votes.
At the end of the 25th round of counting in Phulpur, Samajwadi Party candidate Nagendra Patel had bagged 271,752 votes, establishing an unassailable lead of over 38,498 votes over the BJP's Kaushlendra Singh Patel (233,254 votes).
Mafia don-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmad, contesting as an Independent from inside the jail, won 33,818 votes while Manish Mishra (Congress) got 11,934 votes.
The setback comes as a huge shocker to the year-old BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, where Adityanath, who has represented Gorakhpur in the Lok Sabha seat for five consecutive times, vacated it after becoming the Chief Minister.
Similarly, Phulpur MP Maurya resigned from the Lok Sabha after he was named the Deputy Chief Minister in the government.
Both the Lok Sabha constituencies voted on Sunday.
"This is a rejection of both (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and Yogi (Adityanath)," Samajwadi Party spokesman Anurag Bhaudauria told IANS.
"They have been making tall promises but not delivering on the ground," he said, explaining why the voters appeared to have turned away against the BJP so dramatically in these two seats since the 2014 Lok Sabha battle.
Samajwadi Party leaders admitted that the Bahujan Samaj Party's decision to back the main opposition party so as not to split the opposition vote played a critical role in the outcome.
In 2014, the BJP stunningly won 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats while one of its allies secured two. The Samajwadi Party won from five seats. The Congress and the BSP drew a blank.
The Samajwadi Party took early lead right from the beginning of the vote count that began on Wednesday morning and steadily built up the gap with its BJP rivals as officials counted the tens of thousands of votes.
Gorakhpur District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela earlier sparked a storm by barring journalists from entering the counting centre and did not announce details of counting after the first two rounds.
As it became clear that the BJP was headed for a twin rout, overjoyed Samajwadi Party activists and leaders took to the streets in Phulpur and Gorakhpur to celebrate. Sweets were distributed while party workers threw Holi colour on one another.
â€˜Voters angry with BJPâ€™
The BJP's shocking performance in the three Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar prove the "electorate is very angry against the BJP and will vote for the non-BJP candidate most likely to win" claimed Rahul Gandhi.
"Congratulations to the winning candidates in today's by-election," Gandhi tweeted, as it became clear that the Samajwadi Party was set to defeat the BJP in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. The RJD won the Araria Lok Sabha seat in Bihar.
"The Congress will look forward to 'Navnirman' in Uttar Pradesh, it won't happen overnight," he added.