India's ruling Congress-led coalition was in a clear lead over its Hindu nationalist rivals, early trends showed on Saturday, as counting of votes from a mammoth general election began. No alliance is expected to win a clear majority forcing both the Congress led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party led by L.K.Advani to look for support from smaller groups in a possible weak coalition. The Congress was ahead after early counting in more than half of the 543 seats at stake, four national TV networks said. NDTV said the Congress coalition was ahead in 178 seats and the BJP-alliance in 113 seats in early counting for 375 seats. To rule, a party or a coalition requires the support of 272 members of parliament. "So if you want to project from this, it looks like Congress will not only emerge as the single largest party but will be comfortably ahead," Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook magazine, said. Congress party supporters, their arms in the air and carrying banners of star campaigners Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, set off firecrackers in celebration in New Delhi on news of the election returns. Computerized counting of votes at hundreds of centers across the country began at 10:30 p.m. EST with the results for all parliamentary seats due later in the day. Analysts expect days of backroom dealings before a new government is in place and it may not even last its full five-year term at a time when India is faced with its slowest economic growth in six years and mounting instability in Pakistan. A "Third Front" of regional and communist parties may hold the balance of power, stoking concerns that big ticket reforms such as privatization and liberalization of the insurance sector will remain on the backburner. "If it is a Congress coalition with the left backing it, you can forget about any major decisions on reforms," said political commentator Prem Shankar Jha. "It will be a weak coalition, a waste of time actually."