India’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday won regional votes in three out of four major states, in a big boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of a national election due by May. The central states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the southern state of Telangana, voted last month in the last set of provincial elections before the national poll, in which Modi will seek a third term. BJP comfortably won Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh from the main opposition Congress and retained Madhya Pradesh, vote-counting data from the independent election panel showed. BJP’s performance was better than widely expected as opinion and exit polls had suggested a close contest between Modi’s party and Congress. Modi remains widely popular after a decade in power and surveys suggest he will win again next year. However, a 28-party opposition alliance led by the Congress has come together to jointly fight the BJP, posing a renewed challenge. But the alliance did not feature in the state polls due to internal rivalries and it was a direct contest between BJP and Congress. Although Congress won Telangana, its second victory in the south this year, Sunday’s outcome is seen as a setback. The four states are home to more than 160 million voters and account for 82 seats in the 543-member parliament. “We always said we will win the heartland states,” BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda told Reuters. “The results are the outcome of our finest political strategy and work on the ground.” BJP members and supporters burst firecrackers, distributed sweets and danced in the streets in the three states.