India state elections: Uttar Pradesh holds fifth phase

Voters in Haraiya, Uttar Pradesh, 8 Feb 2012
Image caption Nearly 126 million voters are eligible to vote in the state elections

Polling is being held for the fifth phase of assembly elections in India's most populous and politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

More than 15.6 million people are eligible to vote on Thursday in the seven-phase elections.

Votes are being polled for 49 seats in 13 districts amid tight security, election officials said.

These elections are expected to be a litmus test ahead of national elections, which are due in 2014.

Uttar Pradesh is ruled by Chief Minister Mayawati, a low-caste Dalit icon from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

If it were a separate country, Uttar Pradesh would be the fifth-largest in the world by population, with more than 200 million people.

Polling began at 07:00 (01:30 GMT) on Thursday.

The average turnout in the 2007 state election was 46% and election officials have organised various events over recent months to bring more voters to the booth.

Litmus Test

Both Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have campaigned hard in the state in an effort to revive the Congress party's presence.

Some polls have suggested that Congress could increase its vote and may hope to ally with the other strong regional force, the Samajwadi Party, to oppose Ms Mayawati.

The state, one of India's least-developed, sends the largest number of MPs to parliament and has provided the country with eight prime ministers since independence in 1947.

Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa are also voting in this round of state elections. Results for all the states will be announced on 6 March.

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