Indians turned out in big numbers to vote in the first phase of a mammoth general election on Thursday, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term after campaigning on his national security record amid tensions with rival Pakistan.
Reuters reporters saw long queues outside many polling stations. The Election Commission said voters were also turning out in large numbers in an eastern district where Maoist insurgents were blamed for a bomb attack on Tuesday, which killed a state legislator from Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and four security officials.
Two people were also killed on Tuesday in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, prompting authorities to increase security even further. Shops and schools were closed in the disputed region of Kashmir and roads mostly clear of traffic after separatists called a strike against the election.
Shadab Ali, an 18-year-old first-time voter in the volatile Muzaffarnagar constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, queued with a group of friends at a polling station set up in a primary school. Hindu-Muslim riots there killed at least 65 people before the previous election in 2014.
“Modi has worked but not done enough for us,” said Ali, a Muslim. “We want development. I’ve voted for development.”
Voters came to three polling stations in Muzaffarnagar on foot, by bicycle and motorcycle, in cars and on tractors.
Voting in the first of seven rounds is being held in 91 parliament constituencies across 20 states and federally administered regions. There are 543 seats at stake.
Almost 900 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote. The first phase of voting covers an electorate of 142 million, some of whom will vote in pink booths staffed by female security personnel and polling officials.
The election is spread over 39 days, with the final phase on May 19 and the result announced four days later.
Modi’s BJP is the frontrunner despite economic distress over mounting unemployment and weak farm incomes in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live.
Modi said on Twitter as voting began that the mood was “firmly” in favour of his National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the BJP is the senior party. “NDA’s aim is – development, more development and all-round development,” he said