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India's Ruling Party Poised for Victory in General  Elections

Preliminary results from India's general elections indicate the ruling Congress Party could hold on to its majority in parliament. Projections are giving the Congress Party 250 seats against 160 for the opposition bloc headed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the 543-seat parliament.

There was jubilation among Congress Party leaders as the alliance led by the party began racing toward victory hours after vote-counting began Saturday.

Supporters set off firecrackers and danced in the streets as the Congress Party and its allies looked set to win more seats compared to the last election - way ahead of the party's most optimistic projections.

According to projections, the Congress Party, along with its allies, is still about 20 seats short of the 272 seats it needs for a majority in parliament. But the task of gathering allies to cross the half-way mark in parliament is easier now that it has a clear lead over the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The ruling party is expected to pick up about 190 seats on its own - it's best performance in nearly two decades.

A victory for the ruling party means Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be able to form India's next government.

"I think now there should not be any problem, because the mandate is for Congress," said Rajiv Shukla, a spokesman for the party.

Shiela Dikshit, a prominent leader of the Congress Party who heads the local government in New Delhi, summed up the feeling in her party.

"One of great happiness, great relief and absolute joy," saidDikshit.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party expressed its disappointment after projections showed it trailing the Congress Party.

"It is a disappointment, but like all good matches, one loses, one wins, we have lost, but with the hope we will come back again strongly," said Siddharth Nath, a spokesman for the party.

A grouping of leftist and regional parties, which had hoped to challenge the two main parties and form the government, fared poorly.

The Congress Party attributed its showing in the polls to the work it has done for the rural poor, who make up the bulk of India's voters.

A victory by the Congress Party and its allies means India will have a stable coalition government, and not an unwieldy and weak coalition that many had expected.

The election took place at a crucial time, when India is showing signs of a nascent recovery from the economic slowdown that much of the world is grappling with. India's new parliament must be seated by June 2.