Major parties on Thursday were holding strategy meetings ahead of Monday's final and biggest round of voting, when more than 180 of the 545 seats in the lower house will be decided.

   

"There will be no hung parliament, the National Democratic Alliance will get a clear majority and Atal Behari Vajpayee will rule," Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told a rally in the hill state of Uttaranchal late on Wednesday.

   

Uttaranchal is one of the states to vote on Monday.

   

The main Mumbai share index opened higher on Thursday on expectations the coalition will return to power.

 

Index up

   

The index was trading up 1.24% at 5,756.37 points by 0942 GMT. Markets had fallen sharply last week on fears economic reforms could slow if a weak coalition government emerged.

   

"The polls have reduced uncertainty and that is helping sentiment," said Ashim Syal, chief investment manager at ING Vysya Mutual Fund.

 

Exit polls have predicted Prime Minister Vajpayee and his partners in the alliance would win between 245 and 282 seats in parliament with 273 needed to form a government.

   

"Heartland gives hope to NDA," said the front-page headline in the Times of India after Wednesday's fourth-round vote for 83 seats across seven states, including the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

 

"The polls have reduced uncertainty and that is helping sentiment"

Ashim Syal,
chief investment manager,
ING Vysya Mutual Fund

Counting of all votes will be on 13 May, with results later that day.

   

The main opposition Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, the torch-bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is seen winning 167-205 seats nationally.

   

Congress has fared better than expected, boosted by the entry of the next generation of the dynasty, Gandhi's popular daughter Priyanka and son Rahul.

   

"We are gaining strength in each round," said party spokesman Anand Sharma. "When the votes are counted, a lot of people who are predicting our defeat will be surprised."

   

Opinion and exit polls have a mixed record in India where 670 million people were eligible to vote in this poll, with voting patterns varying sharply across constituencies.

   

But all polls and analysts agreed there was little doubt the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the ruling coalition, would emerge as the largest party in the new parliament and given the first right to form a government.