The poll to elect India's Lok Sabha has begun, with voting being held in the northeastern states of Assam and Tripura. The election is set to be held in nine stages over the next five weeks. Results are due on May 16.
As balloting began from 7 am on Monday, April 7, people queued up at polling stations in Assam's five constituencies: Tezpur, Jorhat, Kaliabor, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur. Brisk polling was seen aside from a few booths where the process was delayed due to technical snags in the electronic voting machines.
In neighboring Tripura a record 60 percent of the electorate had cast their votes by early afternoon, as polling was held in one of the two constituencies in the Communist Party-ruled state.
"I have appealed to all voters to exercise their vote fearlessly and ensure this huge logistical exercise passes off peacefully," H. S. Brahma, election commissioner, told DW.
Emphasis on youth power
Over the next five weeks 815 million people are expected to cast their votes in a poll staggered over nine phases. Another interesting statistic that has not been ignored by mainstream political parties is that over half the electorate is young, aged between 18 and 40. This makes them a crucial voting bloc.
"Certainly, the tide is changing, India is one of the youngest countries in the world and we have hundreds of millions of young people who are willing to take part in the decision-making process," Sachin Pilot, an MP and one of the youngest ministers in the current Congress party-led government, told DW.
In a political system that has in the past pandered to caste and community, especially in the rural areas, India's youth have pushed the agenda for the elections toward their own concerns, of which development is chief.
"Millions of unemployed urban youth are looking forward to a new government that will deliver jobs. About 285 million Indians fall in this category, which is about 9 percent of India's population of 1.2 billion plus people," economist Pradeep Thakur told DW.
Many say the country's youth are exhibiting a different trend, as they are increasingly inclined to cast their ballots on the basis of candidates and their personalities, instead of only focusing on parties.
Modi versus Gandhi
This general election has focused more on individual leaders. It has distinguished itself by an almost US style presidential campaign, pitting the favorite Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the Congress party and descendant of India's most famous political dynasty.
Political pundits feel regional outfits and smaller parties will play an key role in the event of a hung parliament
Both politicians have been campaigning aggressively, criss-crossing the country at a frenetic pace. Even though opinion polls have projected the BJP-led alliance as a frontrunner in this bitterly fought election, with some even predicting the party getting an outright majority, the Congress party has not given up.
"Our welfare schemes have paid off, poverty levels are down and we have come up with a strong pro-people and development agenda. People have not forgotten this," said Jairam Ramesh, minister for rural development and a senior member of the Congress party.
Political pundits feel regional outfits and smaller parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party, which made a spectacular electoral debut in Delhi last year, will play an important role in the event of a hung parliament or if the BJP fell short of the magical figure of the 272 seats required to form a government.