Results from a month-long series of state elections began to be released on Monday, with the ruling Congress party looking set to win two states in votes that could reveal India's mood after the Mumbai attacks and an economic slowdown.
Five state elections, mostly in central and west India, come before a national vote in early 2009 that will pit the ruling Congress-led coalition against the main opposition alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Four elections -- in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and in the capital, Delhi -- will be straight battles between Congress and BJP.
Early results, local television reported, showed Congress looking set to form a government in Rajasthan, where the BJP was the incumbent.
Incumbents traditionally fare badly in Indian elections and the BJP is also in government in two of the other states.
The ruling Congress party was looking set to win Delhi as the first counts came in.
The elections in Rajasthan and Delhi were held after the attacks in Mumbai by militants that killed 171 people.
But election analysts said the trend could change with more results coming in. Final tallies are due later on Monday afternoon.
Whoever does best in the state elections may find it easier to secure alliances with regional parties before the national election, crucial to building a post-election coalition.
A fifth election, in Mizoram where a local regional party is fighting Congress, will show little reflection of any national trends.
The results for troubled Kashmir state will be released near the end of December.
Voters may also pass judgment on a government criticised for rising prices and for failing to prevent the Mumbai attacks and other bombings by suspected Islamists.
Criticism over the economy and security has helped the BJP win a string of state elections in the last year.
Even before the blood had been mopped up from the three-day rampage in India's financial capital, in which Islamist gunmen killed 171 people, the BJP took out front-page advertisements slamming Congress as unable to defend the nation.
Economists now expect the economy to grow at 7 per cent this year, compared with 9 per cent or more in recent years.
On Sunday, the government said it planned $4 billion of extra spending to try to revive economic growth.
India's economy is reeling, with car factories on three-day weeks, soy farmers hit by drops in commodity prices and revenue outlooks by software exporters cut.
Kashmir, facing its biggest protests against Indian rule in years, is in the middle of a month-long vote that will test India's claim on the disputed region, but results are not due until later in the month.