NEW DELHI - Five months after winning a resounding victory in parliamentary polls, India's ruling Hindu nationalist party retained power in a key western state but lost its majority in a northern state.
The results of the regional polls were a disappointment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which had been forecast to win sweeping victories in both states and was hoping to tighten its grip on power.
Political analysts said that the plank of muscular nationalism on which the BJP won national elections had failed to appeal to voters hurt by a sharp economic slowdown.
The BJP crossed the halfway mark in Maharashtra state along with a regional ally, paving the way for the party to rule India's richest state for a second term. However, it will govern with a slimmer majority in the 288-seat assembly. The BJP, along with its ally, was set to win 158 seats.
In Haryana state, where it is set to win 40 out of the 90 seats, it emerged as the largest party but will have to scout for allies to form a government. Several BJP ministers lost their seats by huge margins.
Prime Minister Modi thanked people in both states and in a message to voters in Haryana, tweeted, "We will continue to work with the same zeal and dedication for the state's progress."
Modi, who had campaigned extensively in both states, had pointed to his decision to revoke Indian-administered Kashmir's special status in August and take a tougher stance with Pakistan as part of his government's strong commitment to strengthen national security.
But political analysts say while Modi remains popular, voters were more worried about issues such as lack of jobs, stagnant incomes and growing rural distress.
The results would be a "wake-up call" for the BJP, according to independent political analyst Nilanajan Mukhopadhyay. "It shows that elections in India are not being completely dictated by nationalistic considerations and that local, economic and day-to-day issues are shaping up voter response," he said. "This whole thing of a more robust or majoritarian government is not cutting ice with people when it comes to state elections. This is a thumbs down."
With an unemployment rate that is three times the national average, Haryana, where BJP suffered big losses, is grappling with massive joblessness. The state is a major hub of automobile manufacturing, but the sector has shed tens of thousands of jobs as it struggles with its worst downturn in two decades.
A spokesman for the opposition Congress Party Sanjay Jha told reporters that people were unhappy with the BJP because it had failed to revive the economy.
Even though it failed to secure a victory in either state, the results were a shot in the arm for the Congress Party. While it almost doubled its tally of seats in Haryana state, along with its ally, it also increased its presence in the Maharashtra legislature.
Once the country's leading party, the Congress Party has been in disarray since suffering a stinging defeat in two successive national elections. Analyst Mukhopadhay pointed out that the better-than-expected performance in Maharashtra and Haryana were pulled off by local leaders, and the party needs to do more to revive at the national level.
"There was hardly any presence of national leadership of these elections," he said.