Taking pollsters and politicians by surprise, the Conservative party defied predictions of a hung parliament and won a stunning majority in Britain, taking Prime Minister David Cameron back into 10 Downing Street for another term in office and ending a brief period of coalition politics.
Following the emphatic win that left his Labour opponents in tatters, Cameron met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace to accept a mandate to form the first majority Conservative government since John Major's surprise victory in 1992.
"This is the sweetest victory of all," Cameron told jubilant supporters at the party headquarters. "The real reason to celebrate tonight, the real reason to be proud, the real reason to be excited is we are going to get the opportunity to serve our country again."
As the final results came in, the Conservatives won 331 seats in the 650-member house, and the main opposition Labour 232. The centre-left Liberal Democrats, who supported Cameron in government since 2010, were all but wiped out, reduced to eight seats from 57.
The face of British politics was altered as the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 of 59 seats in Scotland, mostly at the cost of Labour in what was called a ‘siesmic’ shift, finishing as the third largest party in the House of Commons.
Addressing media after visiting Queen Elizabeth to start the process of forming a new government, David Cameron said he would press ahead with a planned referendum on the country's membership of the European Union and he promised Scotland the most devolution "anywhere in the world" after his resounding election victory.
"Yes, we will deliver that in-out referendum on our future in Europe," Cameron said as he addressed the media after visiting Queen Elizabeth to start the process of forming a new government.
Cameron said he would move ahead as fast as possible with a plan to give more powers to Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly for the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
"In Scotland, our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world with important powers over taxation, and no constitutional settlement will be complete if it did not offer also fairness to England," he said.
Video:Surprise in UK polls
The tremors caused by the election forced the leaders of three parties – Labour’s Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party – to resign.
Miliband, an Oxford-educated son of a Marxist intellectual, never quite connected with working-class voters or cast off Labour's reputation for profligacy. He ran a campaign widely seen as better than expected, but was always far behind Cameron in polls asking voters who they saw as a more credible leader.
"I am truly sorry that I did not succeed. I have done my best for five years," said Labour’s prime ministerial candidate Miliband. "The responsibility for the result is mine alone. It is time for someone else to take forward the interests of this party."
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband arrives at a counting centre in Doncaster, northern England. (Reuters)
The Liberal Democrats were punished for Clegg's decision to join Cameron in government five years ago, which meant abandoning campaign pledges and which party members considered treachery.
"It is simply heartbreaking," Clegg said of the losses. "Clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared."
Besides taking forward its economic austerity measures with their impact on the welfare state, the Cameron government in its new incarnation faces with two major challenges: a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2017 and grappling with nationalist support for independence for Scotland.
In a brief statement outside 10 Downing Street after meeting Queen Elizabeth, Cameron reiterated his commitment to hold the EU referendum by 2017, and said his party will "govern as a party of one nation" and with fairness to Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.
A record 10 Indian-origin candidates including Keith Vaz, Priti Patel and Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy's son-in-law, Rishi Sunak, were elected to the British Parliament.
Congratulating Cameron on the win, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled the former’s words during campaigning: ‘Phir ek baar, Cameron sarkar’.
(With inputs from Reuters)