India election: Rahul Gandhi's Amethi votes in penultimate phase

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Media captionThe BBC's Sanjoy Majumder: "All eyes are on Rahul Gandhi"

Amethi, a stronghold of India's governing Congress party, is among 64 seats which have voted in the eighth phase of the mammoth general election.

The seat, held by party leader Rahul Gandhi, has been at the centre of a row after the main opposition BJP's candidate for PM held a rally there.

Narendra Modi blamed the Gandhi dynasty for Amethi's "backwardness" and said he wanted to change it.

A 97-year-old man, among India's oldest voters, has also voted on Wednesday.

Shyam Saran Negi, a retired teacher in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, has voted in every single election since 1951 - when India held its first general election after gaining independence from British rule.

On Wednesday morning, Mr Negi visited the polling centre along with his wife in Kalpa village. He was presented a shawl and a garland by officials.

With 814 million eligible voters, India's election is the world's biggest exercise in democracy and the governing Congress party is battling the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for power. Mr Modi is ahead in all the opinion polls.

Tight security

Uttar Pradesh, where Amethi is located, returns more MPs than any other and is often described as India's battleground state.

Long queues had formed outside most polling stations within hours of their opening, BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava reported from Amethi.

Kamlesh Kumari, 39, returned from her parents' home in Gorakhpur on Tuesday because she did not want to miss voting. "I missed voting in the 2012 assembly election because I was expecting my third child, but this time I made it a point to be in the village on this day to vote," she said.

Authorities in the high-profile seat held by Rahul Gandhi are taking no chances with security and a large number of police and paramilitaries are deployed in the town and on its borders with the neighbouring districts of Sultanpur and Lucknow, our correspondent adds.

Campaigning closed there on Monday evening after visits by Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka, as well as senior BJP leaders backing their candidate, former television actress Smriti Irani.

Image copyright Nitin Srivastava
Image caption In Amethi, long queues have formed outside most polling stations within hours of their opening
Image copyright AP
Image caption Former television actress Smriti Irani is the BJP candidate for Amethi
Image copyright AP
Image caption Candidates in Amethi include poet Kumar Vishwas (garlanded, right) of the Aam Aadmi Party
Image copyright Google
Image caption Shyam Saran Negi, 97, has voted in every single election since 1951-52

There are 34 candidates in Amethi, including Hindi poet Kumar Vishwas of the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP).

Amethi has been held almost continuously by the Gandhi dynasty since 1980 - Mr Gandhi's mother Sonia had previously represented the constituency, as did his father Rajiv, who was prime minister from 1984 to 1989.

And although the BJP is expected to do well nationally, Mr Gandhi is defending a massive majority in Amethi. He won over 70% of the vote there in 2009. The BJP candidate came third with less than 10%.

Wednesday is the second last polling day in India and voting was held in seats in seven states - Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Indian-administered Kashmir.

In Baramulla constituency in Kashmir, voting began amid sporadic violence and very heavy security, the BBC's Riyaz Masroor reports.

A crude bomb was defused by police near a polling station in Pattan town, our correspondent said.

More than 95 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots at more than 107,000 polling centres on Wednesday.

The general election, which began on 7 April, will conclude on 12 May. Votes will be counted on 16 May.

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