India's Parliament was dissolved today after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Congress-I party suffered major election losses.
President Ramaswamy Venkataraman ordered the dissolution on Gandhi's advice with most indications suggesting the opposition will be given a chance to form the new government.
Senior Congress-I party officials said it was only a matter of time before Gandhi conceded defeat. They added that the party had decided not to seek a coalition partner in an attempt to stay in power.
Top government officials said any concession of defeat would come only toward the end of the vote count.
Final results from the three-stage polls in the world's biggest democracy are expected Tuesday with a hung Parliament a certainty and no party able to rule alone.
The Congress-I party, which went into the elections with 415 seats in the 543-member Parliament, gained in the south in the polls ending Sunday but was heading for humiliation in the north.
The party officials said the Congress-I decision not to seek a coalition partner almost certainly means the opposition will be invited to form an administration for only the second time since India became independent from Britain in 1947.
They said Gandhi will probably be asked to stay on as caretaker prime minister while the usually fractious opposition tries to put a government together.
India's only previous non-Congress-I government lasted two years before collapsing in 1979.
Senior Congress-I officials said that if the opposition manages to form a government again, it would not even last that long.
Many Congress-I members advocated that the party should quietly go into the opposition role. It could then relax and watch an opposition National Front government struggle to survive and sweep back to power when it collapsed.
Other Congress-I sources, however, argued that was a dangerous option. Knowing it could not afford to mount another major election campaign soon, the opposition would bend over backward to stay together, they said.
The haggling among opposition groups began well before final results were known with the right-wing Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the likely key to the formation of a National Front government.
The BJP won only two seats in the last elections in 1984. This time, it was projected to win at least 75 compared to about 200 for Congress-I and 150 for the National Front.
BJP leader Lal Krishan Advani held initial talks with the Janata Dal, core of the National Front, and appeared ready to exact a high price for his support.