Shimla, Dec 18 The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inched ahead of the ruling Congress on Monday as officials counted the votes polled in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections.

Trends emerging from counting centres showed that BJP candidates were racing ahead in seven of the 68 seats while Congress nominees were in the lead in four.

The verdict will decide the fate of 337 candidates including Chief Ministerial nominees Virbhadra Singh (Congress) and Prem Kumar Dhumal (BJP). A total of 37,83,580 people voted in the hill state -- a record 75.28 per cent polling.

The Congress and the BJP contested in all the 68 constituencies. Most exit polls have indicated the BJP's return to power with an absolute majority.

The state has alternately elected Congress and BJP governments since 1985. In 2012, the Congress won 36 seats and the BJP 26. Independents won six seats.