HYDERABAD, India (AP) ― Millions of people in nine states across India, including the newest state of Telangana, were voting Wednesday in the latest phase of the country’s massive general election. With 814 million eligible voters in India, the election is being held in phases over six weeks. Results are expected May 16.
In the seventh phase of the election, voting was taking place Wednesday for 89 seats in the lower house of Parliament, including all 26 parliamentary seats from the western state of Gujarat.
Among early voters in Gujarat was the state’s top elected official, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is contesting from the city of Vadodara. Modi is the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Elections were also being held in northern Punjab state and in the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal.
Fourteen constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, were also voting, including Rae Bareli, which is being contested by Sonia Gandhi, the president of the country’s ruling Congress party.
Security was tight in Uttar Pradesh, with tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police deployed across the state.
In elections last week in Uttar Pradesh, supporters of political parties took over 11 polling stations in Rampur constituency, said Umesh Sinha, the state’s chief electoral officer.
A new election was ordered and took place Tuesday.
Sinha said police had been given shoot-on-sight orders to prevent any outbreak of violence or any attempt to disrupt Wednesday’s voting.
In Telangana, around 28 million voters were expected to vote for 17 seats in India‘s lower house of Parliament and 119 seats in the state assembly.
Telangana, India’s 29th state, was carved out of Andhra Pradesh state in February after nearly six decades of street protests and strikes.
Telangana supporters say statehood will bring more money into their underdeveloped area. But the move to create Telangana was opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, which will eventually lose its capital city of Hyderabad to the new state.
Opinion polls have given Modi an edge in the election and have predicted that the BJP could form India’s next government.
However, Modi’s critics say his image has been tainted by 2002 sectarian violence that ripped through his home state of Gujarat, killing nearly 1,000 Muslims. Modi, who has been chief minister of the state since 2001, is widely seen as doing little to stop the violence.
Modi denies playing a role in the riots, and has never apologized or expressed remorse for them. In December, under pressure to speak about the violence, which has become a focal point of his candidacy, Modi spoke of his “anguish” over the bloodshed. The carefully worded statement appeared designed to convey that he had nothing to apologize for.