Indians vote in first phase of giant general election

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports on how day one of the world's biggest election unfolded

Indians have voted in the first phase of a general election which pits the governing Congress party against the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The nine-phase vote got under way in the north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura and will conclude on 12 May. Votes will be counted on 16 May.

More than 814 million Indians are eligible to vote in a poll dominated by corruption and high inflation.

An anti-corruption party the AAP offers another challenge to the main parties.

The Aam Aadmi (Common Man's) Party) secured a spectacular result in local polls in Delhi last autumn and is fielding candidates in all of parliament's 543 elected seats.

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Mr Modi represents a return to personalised politics, not seen in India since the days of Indira Gandhi in the 1970s”

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Several smaller regional parties are also in the fray and if no single party wins a clear majority, they could play a crucial role in government formation.

Brisk voting

India's marathon vote is being staggered over more than a month for security and logistical reasons.

On the first day of voting, polling took place in six constituencies in two states in the north-east - five in Assam and one in Tripura.

The BBC's Mishal Husain visited a BJP rally in Aligarh

People line up to cast their vote outside a polling station in Nakhrai village in Tinsukia district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam 7, April 2014. Voters began queuing up outside the polling centres even before they opened.
A woman shows her ink-marked finger after casting her vote as others line up to cast their ballot at a polling station Many of the voters were women, dressed in colourful saris and some draped in Assamese shawls.
An official applies indelible ink on the finger of a voter during the first phase of elections in Assam state, India, Monday, April 7, 2014 Assam has more than six million eligible voters.
An election officer applies indelible ink mark on the finger of a Mishing tribal woman voter during the first phase of elections at Misamora Sapori, an island in the River Brahmaputra in the northeastern Assam state, India, Monday, April 7, 2014. Assam is a Congress party stronghold but the opposition BJP is hoping to make inroads.
An election official checks the identity of a voter during the first phase of elections in Agartala, in the northeastern state of Tripura, India, Monday, April 7, 2014 Voting is also being held in one of the two constituencies in the tiny north-eastern state of Tripura.

Voters began queuing up outside the polling centres even before voting began in the morning, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Assam says.

A large number of the voters who turned up were women, dressed in colourful saris and some draped in Assamese shawls.

Many smiled happily after they had voted, holding up their fingers stained with indelible ink, a sign that they had exercised their right, our correspondent adds.

"We need good people in government," said one of them.

  • 7 April - 2 states, 6 constituencies
  • 9 April - 5 states, 7 constituencies
  • 10 April - 14 states, 92 constituencies
  • 12 April - 3 states, 5 constituencies
  • 17 April - 13 states, 142 constituencies
  • 24 April - 12 states, 117 constituencies
  • 30 April - 9 states, 89 constituencies
  • 7 May - 7 states, 64 constituencies
  • 12 May - 3 states, 41 constituencies
  • Counting of votes - 16 May

Assam is a Congress party stronghold but the BJP is hoping to make inroads there.

The state is dotted with plantations growing the world-famous Assam tea and has more than six million eligible voters.

Brisk polling was registered in the state. Officials put turnout at about 75%.

The strong turnout is a sign, many believe, that voters are frustrated and want a change, our correspondent adds.

The main contest in the elections is between the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, the latest member of India's influential Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and the BJP, led by the charismatic and controversial Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi, who is ahead in all the pre-election surveys, is the leader of Gujarat state, which witnessed one of India's worst anti-Muslim riots in 2002.

The BJP has promised to improve the economy and infrastructure and curb corruption if it wins in the general elections.

The party launched its manifesto hours after polling began for the first phase.

"Today the country has become stagnant. It is drowned in pessimism. It needs momentum to move forward," Mr Modi said at the launch of the manifesto.

Indian elections: Everything you need to know in two minutes

The Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) has 543 elected seats and any party or a coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

Some 814 million voters - 100 million more than at the last elections in 2009 - are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations, up from 830,000 polling stations in 2009.

Indian elections on BBC TV/Radio

  • Monday, Tuesday and Thursday: Special edition of Impact on BBC World News at 1300 GMT
  • Monday to Thursday: Special edition of Global on BBC World News at 1500 GMT presented from Mumbai/Delhi
  • Monday: Newshour special at 1200 GMT on BBC World Service presented from Mumbai
  • Thursday: Newshour special at 1200 GMT on BBC World Service presented from Delhi

Electronic voting machines will be used and will, for the first time, contain a None of the Above (Nota) button - an option for voters who do not want to cast their ballot for any of the candidates.

The Congress party has promised "inclusive growth" if it returns to power.

In its election manifesto, the party promised a raft of welfare schemes, including a right to healthcare for all and pensions for the aged and disabled.

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