India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is heading towards a majority in the southern state of Karnataka, early results show.
The BJP has won 57 seats and is ahead in another 57 in the 224-seat assembly, according to the Election Commission.
The polls are seen as a bellwether of 2019 general elections.
Analysts believe losing Karnataka would be a major blow for Congress which runs only three of India’s 29 states. The BJP and its allies are in power in 22.
The BJP’s performance has defied exit poll results which predicted a hung assembly. Celebrations have begun in earnest at party headquarters, BBC reporters in Karnataka say.
By mid-afternoon the Congress had taken 28 seats and was leading in 49, while the regional Janata Dal (Secular) had seven seats and led in another 31.
More than 72% of voters cast their ballots in Saturday’s poll in Karnataka, the hub of India’s information technology industry and has a population of 64 million.
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Who are the key players?
With the 2019 elections in mind, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP leader, and Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi travelled across the state, addressing huge rallies.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who led the Congress to a huge victory in 2013, winning 121 seats, was bullish ahead of results day.
“We are going to secure 120-plus seats,” Mr Siddaramaiah told BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi before the poll. “I am 100% confident because I am the chief minister.”
BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s candidate, was equally confident of winning: “There is no doubt that I will be sworn in as chief minister on May 17,” he told BBC Hindi.
He led the BJP to power the first time they won in Karnataka in 2008 and has also served as chief minister.
The Janata Dal (Secular), a key regional party that has given the state two chief ministers in the past, could emerge as an important player after the results are all counted.
The party is led by HD Deve Gowda, who was the prime minister of India from 1994 to 1996.
What were the main poll issues?
The powerful Lingayat community, a Hindu sect that comprises 17% of the state’s population, was expected to play a decisive role in the elections.
It has traditionally voted for the BJP but that might change this time. A section of the community has been demanding that the sect be identified as a separate religion, distinct from Hinduism.
Mr Siddaramaiah’s administration has declared the community a separate religion and expects to split their vote as a result.
The chief minister has also taken controversial decisions such as proposing a flag for the state and emphasising the use of the local Kannada language.
Apart from the state’s water crisis and lawlessness, corruption is also an important issue.
Mr Yeddyurappa himself resigned from his post as chief minister in 2012 amid allegations that he abused his power.
An anti-corruption report in 2011 had indicted him in a mining scandal that cost the exchequer more than $3bn (£2.2bn).
India’s BJP eyes majority in crucial Karnataka state poll