Around 970 million people, more than 10% of the world’s population, are casting votes  A family takes pictures with their inked fingers after casting their ballot to vote in the first phase of India’s general election outside a polling station at Haridwar, in the country’s Uttarakhand state on April 19, 2024. © Arun SANKAR / AFP

The first phase of India’s 18th general election was held across 21 states and union territories on Friday. Over 166 million voters are estimated to have cast their votes at 200,000 polling stations on Friday in a bid to elect members to 102 (out of 543) constituencies of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament said.

Nearly 60% voter turnout was recorded by 5 p.m. in the afternoon on the first day of polling. The elections in the nation of 1.4 billion are being held in seven phases and will conclude by June 1; results will be announced on June 4. The party or coalition which secures a majority of seats in the Lower House of Parliament will form the next government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which secured 303 seats during the last election in 2019, hopes to get at least 370 seats this time. Its key rival is the Indian National Congress party, which could only secure 52 seats in 2019. Congress leads the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) – an opposition bloc formed by two dozen parties from across the country.

“This is the greatest festival of democracy on Earth”, Veena Sikri, a former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, said in the interview with RT in New Delhi as polling got underway. “There is not a single place in the world where close to a billion people are going to vote for their government, and they view it with pride. It doesn’t matter which part of India you are from, which community, which religion, you value this vote.”

Nearly 970 million people – more than 10% of the world’s population – will be casting their votes in the ongoing elections, with 18.2 million Indians voting for the first time.

“The first election in India was in 1950, and India was one of the first countries in the world, [long] before America, to give adult franchise to everyone,” Rajiv Dogra, a former Indian Ambassador to Romania, noted in the interview with RT. “There is an atmosphere of festival, there is an atmosphere of participation in it.”

While experts pointed out that issues such as economic growth, quality of life and employment opportunities are expectedly influencing the voters’ decisions, foreign policy and the country’s growing position on the global stage are increasingly resonating with ordinary citizens.

Meanwhile, sporadic incidents of violence were reported in West Bengal state in eastern India as BJP supporters clashed with those of the regional powerhouse, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) party, in three constituencies. Irregularities have also been reported in strife-torn Manipur state, with reports of voting machines being destroyed surfacing in at least two locations, according to The Indian Express. Tensions are running high in the northeastern state against the backdrop of ethnic violence that has killed around 200 people and displaced thousands since May last year.

On Friday, Google also dipped its toes into the election festivities, with Friday’s ‘doodle’ depicting a hand with its index finger marked with ink.

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