Buoyed by victory forecasts, a confident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is preparing for the formation of a new government, while the Congress braces itself for the worst as the clock ticks towards 9 a.m. Friday when the actual counting will begin.

Postal ballots will be counted first, from 8 a.m. Half an hour later, the counting of votes recorded in the electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be taken up. By noon, a broad picture of the nationwide trends will be known. By 2 p.m., the contours of the next Lok Sabha and possibly the new government will emerge. The confidence in the BJP camp is so supreme and the nervousness in the Congress quarters so evident that the fact that all pollsters got their forecasts wrong in the 2004 and 2009 election hardly figures in the projected scenarios.

This election will go down as one of the most intensely fought in the electoral history of independent India. In 1977 and 1989, it was a case of the Congress versus the rest of the opposition. This time, the opposition is divided down the middle and yet the Congress is feeling the heat.