India election 2019: Indians have begun voting in the first phase

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Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories will cast their votes in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014.The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

The BJP has been campaigning to retain a commanding majority, but faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi.

Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January.

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning. In the north-eastern state of Assam, lines of voters began forming almost an hour before voting officially began.

Voters at one polling booth in Baraut – in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – got a royal welcome with people were greeted by drums and a shower of flower petals.

But in Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoists detonated an IED device near a polling booth in the one of the constituencies at around 04:00 local time (23:30 BST) – but no injuries were reported.

The mineral-rich state has witnessed an armed conflict for more than three decades and attacks by Maoist rebels on security forces are common. On Tuesday a state lawmaker was killed in a suspected rebel attack.

Some observers have billed this as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi, who stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image, remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter. But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

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