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The Congress (I) Party of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has raced ahead in early results from India's national elections. At press time, the Congress held a strong lead in western and southern states over rivals from the political left and right and was doing better than expected. Results from the crucial northern Hindi-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had not yet been reported.

The Congress was leading with 175 parliamentary seats, compared to 78 seats for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 28 seats for the leftist coalition led by the Janata Dal. A total of 537 seats were contested.

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The early trends suggest the Congress could return to power with a slim majority, though an earlier exit poll predicted it would be the largest party in the parliament but lack a majority.

In the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination, the Congress Party seems to have drawn a strong sympathy vote in the west and south. That is a surprise to political analysts who predicted that Gandhi's death would have little influence on the election outcome.

About 250 people have died in the election violence. Last Saturday, 75 to 100 civilians were massacred when Sikh militants in Punjab State attacked two passenger trains in the run-up to voting in the state next Saturday.

The election began May 20 and was interrupted a day later when Mr. Gandhi was killed in a bomb explosion. A Sri Lankan Tamil separatist group is believed responsible.

With Congress expected to take power, a race is under way to head the party's parliamentary contingent and become India's prime minister.

Aside from party leader P.V. Narasimha Rao, other contenders for prime minister are Sharad Pawar, a state chief minister, and Narain Dutt Tiwari, a former chief minister.

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