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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Congress wins in key Indian state
Voter in Mumbai (Bombay)
Turnout across Maharashtra was put at about 63%
India's ruling Congress Party coalition has won narrowly in Wednesday's poll in the key state of Maharashtra.

Congress was a few seats short of the 145 it needs for a majority in the state assembly, and requires the support of minor parties to govern.

The poll was seen as key test of Congress popularity following its surprise general election win in May.

The opposition BJP, which hoped to boost morale after losing power nationally, was around 20 seats behind.

The state, whose capital is Mumbai (Bombay) is India's most industrially advanced state and considered a major political prize.

'All over'

Most BJP leaders have already accepted defeat, although the results may not be officially declared until Sunday.

Elections come and go and hardly make any difference to us
Satya Prakash Agarwal,
voter in Pune

"It was over for us in Maharashtra," state BJP leader Sushma Swaraj told the Sify.com website.

Most exit polls had predicted a hung assembly but the results proved them inaccurate, as they did in the general election.

Analysts say the Congress victory is likely to strengthen the national government, which has at times appeared shaky and unable to implement tough economic measures.

The turnout for Wednesday's vote was around 63% of the 65m eligible voters.

About 2,600 candidates were battling for the 288 seats in the state assembly.

Counting was scheduled for three days after the poll to allow ballot boxes to reach Mumbai, from remote rural regions.

Mumbai is India's main financial centre and home to Bollywood, the world's most prolific film industry - as well as to some of the globe's biggest slums.

Though Maharashtra contributes 38% of the country's taxes, it is deep in debt and state finances are in a mess.

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