Ernakulam: They may be gripped with a crisis across the country, but Congress is set to create history in Kerala by sweeping 19 out of 20 seats. In a land that inspired the Sabarimala protests, the BJP drew a blank and ruling CPM won only one seat, its biggest setback in recent history. Most exit polls had predicted Congress would win 15 to 16 seats at best, the rest three to four seats would go to the CPM, and the BJP would create history by winning its first seat ever.

The Congress picked up a lead in every seat in the state right from the start of the counting. It is its strongest performance to date; except for three seats given to allies, it won all other seats on its own.

Even candidates who did not fancy a chance to win from the Congress— TN Prathapan in Thrissur, for example, had openly stated his fears of a drubbing at the hands of a BJP onslaught— won by a margin of tens of thousands. The final results are not yet out. The Congress got 12 seats in the previous 2014 Lok Sabha election, and lost power in Kerala in the 2016 assembly election.

The Congress fought in Kerala primarily over anti-incumbency against the BJP at the Centre and the CPM at the state. The unprecedented show signals that Congress could consolidate en-masse both the minority Muslim and Christian voters — fronting the image of Rahul Gandhi as a better force than communist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to prevent the saffron juggernaut. The Sabarimala movement also seemed to have supported the Congress than the BJP, as predicted by exit polls, as it won all the seats where the temple issue was a major factor in the election such as Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta.

Congress Kerala president Mullappally Ramachandran said the party's decision to contest national president Rahul Gandhi from the state's Wayanad, along with a strong anti-BJP wave, anti-CPM wave, as the biggest reasons for the victory. "Rahul Gandhi's contest created an impression that we are the only people who can resist the BJP," he said. Kerala is handing over a stunning victory to Gandhi; he has got the highest votes among all candidates in Kerala, a lead of around 3.6 lakhs of 2pm.

The victory evoked celebrations by party members across the state, but the collapse on the national front snapped at the heels of the jubilee mood. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who won one of the most difficult challenges by contesting against a popular BJP candidate, put it this way, in his usual cricketing wisdom: "We hit a century but lost the match."

The BJP camp is trying to hard to reconcile the defeat. “Mannum chaari ninnavan pennum kond poy (man leaning on the wall eloped with the girl)," said Kerala BJP leader B Gopalakrishnan, referring to how the Congress took advantage of the Sabarimala campaign it helped create.

“It is an anti-Pinarayi result. Sabarimala-influential pockets have voted against the CPM. The Congress benefited out of these votes as well as minority populated areas. Basically, the advantage of all our work was reaped by the Congress that did nothing on Sabarimala."

For the CPM, the results are none less than an existential crisis. Kerala was the last turf standing for the party that leads the Left movement in India. At three seats in Parliament—it got two from Tamil Nadu— the party is one step closer to vanishing from India's electoral map.

"It is an unexpected lose," said CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. "Both the Congress and the CPM fought to end the BJP government's reign at the Centre. The public favoured Congress than us. Minorities seems to have voted en-block for the Congress," he said.

The results are also telling about Kerala's habit of going against the national trend. In the 1977 elections, coming just after the Emergency era when the Congress was at its lowest ebb in popularity, Kerala overwhelmingly voted for the Congress, giving the alliance it leads 15 out of 20 seats in the state. Similarly, when the country exceedingly voted in favour of the Congress in 2004, Kerala gave 15 seats to Congress' main local enemy, the CPM.

Catch all the live updates here: Lok Sabha Election Results 2019