Indians have begun voting in a general election which will stretch over one month.
It is the world’s largest democratic exercise, with some 714 million eligible voters.
Polls put the ruling coalition led by the centre-left Congress Party in the lead, followed by an alliance headed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
However, both will most likely need the support of smaller regional parties to win.
Hundreds of thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed to ensure a safe and fair election. They will be touring the country over the next month.
The biggest threat to security is the army of Maoist rebels — now present in nearly one third of all districts across the country — who do not believe in parliamentary democracy and want a dictatorship of the proletariat.