The scion of the Gandhi dynasty told Indians that the country's "soul" was at stake on Thursday (11), as millions braved the hot sun to vote on day one of the world's biggest election.
Opinion polls put Prime Minister Narendra Modi as favourite to win, but he faces a possible backlash from India's 900 million voters over unemployment and rural poverty.
Because of India's vastness, Thursday (11) marked just the first of seven phases in the election to take place from the tea plantations of Darjeeling to the slums of Mumbai to the tropical Andaman Islands, and everywhere in between.
Security forces were on high alert due to the perennial danger of violence at election time, with five people including a local lawmaker killed in an ambush by suspected Maoist rebels this week.
Online too, a war rages with social media awash with disinformation, fake news, trolls and bots in what is Facebook and WhatsApp's biggest market, where the world's cheapest data tariffs have fuelled a smartphone boom.
Thousands of Parties and candidates will run for Office between now and 19 May in 543 constituencies across the nation of 1.3 billion people, with results not due until 23 May.
Some of the 1.1 million electronic voting machines will be transported through jungles and carried up mountains, including to a hamlet near the Chinese border with just one voter.
Phase one on Thursday (11) sees some 142 million people able to cast ballots.
Polling stations in northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh bordering China were the first to open, followed by parts of Bihar in the north – where women in multi-coloured saris queued – and Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayas.
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