Scores of protesters clashed with government troops in Indian Kashmir’s main city today as the country went to polls in the parliamentary election.
Clashes also erupted elsewhere, and one person was killed in eastern West Bengal state.
With more than 700 million voters, India normally holds staggered elections for logistical and security reasons.
Nearly 95 million voters are eligible to vote in today’s election for 85 seats in India’s 543-seat lower house of Parliament. Polls were open in the federally administered Indian capital of New Delhi and seven states, including parts of the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh and Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Thousands of troops wearing bulletproof jackets and carrying assault rifles patrolled the streets and guarded polling stations in Kashmiri city of Srinagar amid separatist calls for a poll boycott and a general strike.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse at least one group of rock-throwing protesters. The protesters chanted slogans against the elections and Indian rule.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in mainly Muslim Kashmir, where most people favour independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Suspected rebels also lobbed a petrol bomb at a polling booth in Srinagar, but there was no damage.
In West Bengal, where 17 seats are up for grabs, one person was killed in Murshidabad district, 90 miles north of the state capital, Calcutta.
The final round of voting will take place on May 13. Results of the massive election, which will use more than 1.3 million electronic voting machines in 828,804 polling stations, are expected May 16. According to the constitution, a new parliament has to be in place by June 2.
But few expect a clear mandate from Indian voters after a lacklustre campaign that has been devoid of resonant, central issues.
Polls indicate neither the Congress party, which leads the current governing coalition, nor the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, will win enough seats to rule on its own.
Instead, many of the seats are expected to go to a range of regional and caste-based parties that tend to focus on local issues and promises, leaving India with a shaky coalition government.