India election: Voting held on biggest polling day
Millions of Indians have voted in the biggest day of the general election pitting the ruling Congress party against the main opposition BJP.
Nearly 200 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in 121 seats in 12 states, including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The nine-phase vote began on 7 April and will conclude on 12 May. Votes will be counted on 16 May.
More than 814 million Indians are eligible to vote in the polls.
Election Commission officials say voter turnout in most states in the general election so far has been higher than in 2009.
Thursday was one of the most critical days of voting spread across 12 states, from Indian-administered Kashmir in the north, to the information-technology hub of Bangalore in the south, Rajasthan in the west and the tea-growing Himalayan town of Darjeeling in the east, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reported.
On the scene
The Maharaja's High School is more than 100 years old and one of Jaipur's oldest schools.
It's a stunning building with a massive arched entranceway, huge wooden doors leading you into the courtyard and the classrooms, now converted into polling stations.
And the voters have been coming in steadily, women in colourful saris, young men in western wear, older ones wearing bright turbans.
The city's Muslim minority is out in large numbers as well, many of the women in all-black veils.
Rajasthan sends 25 MPs to parliament and is a key swing state. In what is turning out to be a bitterly fought campaign, every vote counts and the mood here is unforgiving.
"I want a clean government. One that is corruption free and that can take decisions in the interest of our country," a young woman voter in Rajasthan's Jaipur city told our correspondent.
A young man said he was voting for BJP as its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi "represented change".
A Muslim voter, however, said people should vote for a "leader who will represent all communities, one who will take everyone along".
The southern state of Karnataka where voting was held in all the 28 seats on Thursday is a key battleground.
Bangalore South is one of the keenly contested seats in the state with Congress party's Nandan Nilekani, BJP's Ananth Kumar and the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Nina Nayak as candidates.
Mr Nilekani is the billionaire co-founder and former CEO of Infosys, one of India's largest IT services firms, while Mr Kumar is a former federal minister.
"I think my vote will make a change. I want my country to be a superpower. We have good candidates with a clean image who I am sure will give good governance," Anita, a first time voter, told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi.
Reports said voters streamed in through the day into polling stations even in the central state of Chhattisgarh where Maoist rebels had given a call to boycott the elections.
"I want a good life for my baby, security and peace,'' Associated Press quoted Neha Ransure, a 25-year-old woman voter in Rajnandgaon town as saying. "The rebels are bad. They kill our soldiers. I don't go outside of town. It is too dangerous," she added.
The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man's) Party, which secured a spectacular result in local polls in Delhi last year, offers a challenge to the main parties.
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 the formation of a government.
Thousands of police and paramilitary security personnel have been deployed across the country to ensure smooth polling.
The marathon vote is being staggered over five weeks for security and logistical reasons.
- 7 April - 2 states, 6 constituencies
- 9 April - 5 states, 7 constituencies
- 10 April - 14 states, 91 constituencies
- 12 April - 4 states, 7 constituencies
- 17 April - 12 states, 121 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
The main contest in the elections is between the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, and the BJP, led by the charismatic and controversial Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.
Mr Modi, who is ahead in all the pre-election opinion polls, 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 Congress party has promised "inclusive growth" if it returns to power, with a raft of welfare schemes, including a right to healthcare for all and pensions for the elderly and disabled.
Any party or a coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.