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Voting has started in the world's biggest general election in India

It’s expected that the country’s 814 milion-strong electorate will shy away from the ruling Congress party.

An election officer applies an indelible ink mark on the finger of a woman after voting Dibrugarh, in the northeastern state of Assam, India.
An election officer applies an indelible ink mark on the finger of a woman after voting Dibrugarh, in the northeastern state of Assam, India.
Image: Altaf Qadri

INDIANS HAVE BEGUN voting in the world’s biggest election which is set to sweep the Hindu nationalist opposition to power at a time of low growth, anger about corruption and warnings about religious unrest.

India’s 814-million-strong electorate are forecast to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years, and elect hardliner Narendra Modi from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Voting began at 7am Indian time (IST) in six constituencies in tea-growing and insurgency-wracked areas of the northeast, an often neglected part of the country wedged between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.

“I want the government to reduce poverty and do something for the future of my children,” said 30-year-old tea plantation worker Santoshi Bhumej at a polling station in Dibrugarh in the state of Assam.

Men and women were packed tightly into separate queues when polls opened, shuffling slowly into tightly guarded booths to press the button for their candidates on electronic voting machines.

The marathon contest, to be held over nine phases until May 12, got under way after a bad-tempered campaign which reached new levels of bitterness at the weekend.

Tensions

Religious tensions, an undercurrent to the contest which has mostly focused on development until now, burst into the open on Friday when the closest aide of Modi was accused of inciting sentiments.

Amit Shah faces a judicial investigation after he reportedly told supporters to see the election as “revenge” against a “government that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Hindus”.

Rahul Gandhi, leading Congress into his first national election as scion of the famous dynasty, warned Sunday that a victory for Modi threatens India’s religious fabric.

“Wherever these people (the opposition BJP) go they create fights. They’ll pit Hindus and Muslims against each other,” he warned on Sunday.

The BJP said talk of “revenge” was normal ahead of an election and said the other remarks were taken out of context.

- © AFP, 2014

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