India election: Voting ends on first key polling day

Rahul Gandhi, vice president of India's ruling Congress party, shows his ink-marked finger after casting his vote at a polling station in New Delhi April 10, 2014. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the governing Congress party, was among the early voters in the capital Delhi

Millions of Indians have voted on the first big day of the general election pitting the ruling Congress party against the main opposition BJP.

Polling was held in 91 seats in 14 states and union territories, including in the capital Delhi and the key state of Uttar Pradesh.

Officials say the voter turnout in all states has been higher than in 2009.

The nine-phase vote began on Monday 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.

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.

More than 110 million voters were eligible to cast their votes on Thursday and almost a fifth of the parliament's 543 seats were up for grabs.

Brisk voting was reported through the day in Delhi, Bihar, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, reports said. Voting was also held in the states of Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana.

Voting officially ended at 18:00 local time (12:30 GMT) but in some booths it was extended to allow voters who were in the queue to finishing voting.

Election Commission officials said the voter turnout was 64% in Delhi, 65% in Uttar Pradesh, 73% in Kerala, 66% in Jammu and 73% in Haryana.

Among the early voters in Delhi were members of the Gandhi family - Congress party president Sonia, her son and party vice-president Rahul and daughter Priyanka - and the AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.

In the politically crucial northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs, 80, to parliament, some 16 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in 10 constituencies.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Voters have turned out enthusiastically to cast their ballots on Thursday.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Congress party president Sonia Gandhi voted in Delhi.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal also voted early.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Voting is also taking place in Jharkhand state, parts of which are a stronghold of Maoist rebels.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There was a big turnout of women in Kerala, which has more female voters than men.

In the restive Muzaffarnagar constituency, where at least 65 people were killed and 51,000 people - mostly Muslims - were displaced after Hindu-Muslim clashes in September, a number of people living in camps in the area turned up to vote early on Thursday, the BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava reports.

Two soldiers were killed and three others injured in a landmine explosion blamed on Maoist rebels in Jamui, a rebel stronghold in the eastern state of Bihar, but voting remained unaffected in the area.

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.

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.

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