Voters in India have begun going to the polls in the final phase of the country’s marathon elections, with most opinion polls putting the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the lead.
The voting began on Monday in the Hindu city of Varanasi, where two of the country’s most prominent politicians are facing off in a battle for the city’s sole parliamentary seat.
The race in Varanasi is also drawing attention because the city is in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
More than 40,000 security forces have been sent to ensure peaceful voting in the ancient city.
With its population of 200 million people, Utter Pradesh has 80 seats in the 543-seat lower house of the parliament. There are now 41 seats up for grabs in the final phase of the elections for the state.
Most opinion polls show BJP in the lead. If the party wins the majority of the parliament seats, it will end a ten-year domination of the ruling Indian National Congress party, now being led by Rahul Gandhi.
“People are tired of false promises, corruption and the same old tape-recorded messages,” BJP leader Narendra Modi said in a blog after campaigning officially ended on Saturday night.
Gandhi, however, denied that his party will face an almost certain defeat in the elections.
“I am confident that the voters will give a mandate to an inclusive, fair and unifying (Congress Party-led) government,” he said in an interview to the Hindi-language Hindustan newspaper on Sunday.
“The Congress understands the needs of the people, particularly those who are poor and disadvantaged,” he said.
Around 814 million people were eligible to vote in the world’s largest elections that began on April 7. Results are due on Friday.