Voters in India have gone to the polls for what is to be the biggest election in the history of the world. To accomodate so many voters, the polls are to take place in nine phases, until May 12.
Voters in India's north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura went to the polls Monday in the first phase of the country's massive general elections, with Hindu nationalists strongly tipped to sweep the ruling Congress party from power.
Almost 814 million people are eligible to vote in what will be not only the biggest general election in the history of India, but also the world.
The elections are to take place in nine phases, until May 12, as organizers said it would not be possible to administer and guard some 930,000 polling centers on one day.
Playing out against a background of low growth, corruption and religious unrest, the campaign has seen both sides using some heated rhetoric.
The electorate is expected to inflict a bruising defeat on the ruling Congress party which, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has long been seen as India's natural party of government.
While Congress is accused of corruption and looking after a Delhi elite, the party has committed itself to wealth distribution. The BJP, on the other hand, is seen as far more pro-business.
Accusation of incitement
The Congress party - whose prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi carries on a family tradition - accuses the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of inciting religious hatred. Party leader Narendra Modi tainted by religious rioting in the western state of Gujarat which, for the past 13 years, he has governed.
"Wherever these people (the BJP) go they create fights. They'll pit Hindus and Muslims against each other," Gandhi warned on the eve of the election.
Some question the motivation of Harvard-educated Gandhi - who in the past has likened power to poison. The 43-year-old has seen both his father, Rajiv, and grandmother, Indira, assassinated after becoming prime minister.
Modi, considered a more talented orator than Gandhi, has filled his campaign with barbed and sarcastic attacks on the Congress dynasty, promising to eliminate corruption from the federal government.
The BJP is accused of being too close to big business, but some of its supporters claim strong economic growth in Gujarat is evidence of Modi's potential to reinvigorate the national economy.
rc,hc/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)