Bharatiya Janata Party’s leader Narendra Modi, the man with the biggest chances of winning India’s elections, is to submit his election nomination papers as Indians vote in the sixth phase of their poll.
Narendra Modi arrived in the holy city of Varanasi as supporters from BJP poured onto the streets.
Varanasi will be the scene of an epic battle between Narendra Modi and anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, who is challenging him there.
There are 117 seats up for grabs on Thursday, but Varanasi votes on May 12.
The ruling Congress party is battling the opposition BJP to win the votes of the 814 million Indians eligible to vote.
About 2,000 candidates are hoping to win over 180 million of those votes as polling takes place in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday.
The southern state of Tamil Nadu, where voting is being held in all 39 seats on Thursday, is a key battleground to watch.
More than 35% of votes had been polled by 11:00 local time.
The main contest is between two powerful regional parties – the ruling AIADMK and the main opposition DMK. The two main national parties are fringe players in the state and have traditionally formed alliances in order to ensure power.
India’s financial capital, Mumbai, is also voting on Thursday in what promises to be a keenly-contested battle between two alliances: the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance against a resurgent BJP-Shiv Sena party.
Mumbai usually doesn’t see very high turnouts – it was just over 41% in the 2009 election – but many here say this time things might be different.
In an area where many Bollywood actors live, superstar Aamir Khan has already cast his vote, while Shahrukh Khan is expected to do so in the afternoon.
The marathon vote is being staggered over five weeks for security and logistical reasons. The nine-phase vote began on April 7 and will conclude on May 12. Votes will be counted on May 16.
The main contest in the election is between the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, and the BJP, led by the charismatic and controversial Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.
Narendra 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.
Arvind Kejriwal, contesting against Narendra Modi in Varanasi is at the helm of the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man’s) Party, which secured a spectacular result in local polls in Delhi last year and 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.
Any party or a coalition needs a minimum of 272 lawmakers to form a government.
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