In an overwhelming vote for stability, the Congress and its United Progressive Alliance partners on Saturday scored a stunning win in the Lok Sabha polls, humbling the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties to race towards a simple absolute majority.
The Congress-led UPA was poised to win about 260 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha on the basis of about 300 results actually declared and the leads in the remaining 243 constituencies at 9.30 pm IST.
The UPA thus needs about 12 seats to cross the half-way mark, a task that it can easily achieve without having to seek support from the Left parties who have lost more than half their strength and are projected to win only 24 seats.
For the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, the results have come as a rude shock, prompting the grouping's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani to offer to step down as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, an offer that was promptly turned down by his party.
The NDA is projected to win 161 seats, with the BJP likely to get about 116 which is 22 less than the 138 won by the party in the 2004 elections.
The Congress party's unexpected grand showing was largely based on about 20 seats in UP, 29 in Andhra, 19 in Rajasthan, 15 in Kerala, 17 in Maharashtra, 11 in Madhya Pradesh besides doing well along with its allies the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu (27 seats) and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal (19).
A triumphant Manmohan Singh, who is set for a second term as prime minister, attributed the victory to the "visionary leadership" of party president Sonia Gandhi and to the hard work put in by Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi, in turn praised Singh's leadership and lost no time in reaffirming that the latter would head the new government which is expected to be sworn in early next week.
Party president Sonia Gandhi left the question of whether Rahul should be included in the Cabinet to Singh, who said that he would try to persuade the youth leader to join his team.
The UPA's electoral sweep has made yesterday's much sought-after parties such as Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi party almost irrelevant to government formation at the Centre.
Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party, who chose to snub the Congress before the polls by leaving just three seats to it in Bihar, have been drubbed by the electorate with the former reduced to four from 24.
Lalu Yadav was trounced in Pataliputra constituency but won from the other seat -- Saran -- he contested. Paswan was defeated and his party drew a blank in the 12 constituencies it contested.