India is going to the polls in the first stage of a staggered general election.
The ruling Congress Party-led coalition appears to be in the lead against an alliance headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP but both may need the backing of a host of smaller regional parties to win power.
More than 140 million people are eligible to vote in today’s polls, covering some of the country’s poorest and most insurgency ridden states.
The final outcome will be known on May 16 after five more stages. As many as 714 million people will have had the opportunity to cast their votes.
The centre-left Congress, led by Sonia Ghandi, is wooing voters with populist measures such as food subsidies and and farm loan waivers in a country where hundreds of millions live below the poverty line.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has deployed more than two million security personnel to counter attacks by Maoist rebels.
The BJP accuses its main rival of poor governance and being weak on security, after a string of militant attacks culminated in a gun rampage in Mumbai that claimed the lives of 166 people.