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India kicks off world's largest election

GAUHATI, India (AP) -- Indians began voting Monday in the world's biggest election, with the opposition heading into the polls with strong momentum on promises of economic renewal.

Voting began Monday morning in the remote northeastern states of Assam and Tripura, with many traveling along highways, dirt tracks and rickety bamboo bridges to cast their ballots.

The country's 814 million eligible voters will vote in stages over the next five weeks -- a staggered approach made necessary by India's vast size.

Results are due May 16.

Polls suggest a drubbing could be in store for the incumbent Congress party, which has been hobbled by a poor economy and corruption scandals. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, is expected to do well -- but the party may fall short of a majority.

Modi has been chief minister of western Gujarat state for the past 11 years and is credited with turning it into an industrial haven. Critics question whether the Hindu nationalist chief can be a truly secular leader over India's many cultures.

Elections in India are generally considered free and fair, and even the powerful often fall to defeat at the hands of voters. But there are still challenges, with age-old traditions of caste loyalty, patriarchy and nepotism often influencing voting patterns.

And in a large swath cutting across the vast hinterland of the Indian subcontinent, rebels inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong have called for a boycott of the polls. The armed guerrillas always threaten to disrupt national elections, and this year is no different.

"Several ethnic insurgent groups and Maoist rebels may try violence to disrupt the polls. We are not taking chances and have deployed nearly 25,000 police and paramilitary men for smooth voting," A. P Raut, Additional Director General of the Assam Police, told The Associated Press on Monday.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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