NEW DELHI, April 11 - The world�s largest democratic exercise began on Thursday with crores of Indians coming out to vote to elect 91 parliamentarians in the first phase of over-a-month-long Lok Sabha polls for which the Modi government has made nationalism its core pitch to retain power amid a fragmented challenge from Congress and a number of regional players.
Election officials said voter turnout was high at most places, while poll-related violence saw death of two persons in Andhra Pradesh and complaints poured in from various states about glitches in electronic voting machines and of names missing from the voter lists.
The 91 Lok Sabha constituencies in the first phase, spread across 18 states and two union territories, have more than 14 crore voters � about one-sixth of nearly 90 crore total electorate in India. Votes for all 543 seats would be counted on May 23 after end of the seven-phase polling on May 19.
An estimated 1.5 crore young voters in the age group of 18-19 years would vote for the first time across the seven phases.
In the last general elections in 2014, more than 55 crore Indians had voted (66.3 per cent) with the BJP emerging victorious with little over 30 per cent votes, giving a five-year mandate to a government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the first phase, the BJP is looking to defend 32 seats, including those being fought by senior party leader Nitin Gadkari and five other union ministers, and also expand its tally in states dominated by regional players last time.
The main opposition party Congress is hoping to defend seven seats it won in 2014, besides eyeing gains in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Voting also took place in 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh, 32 in Sikkim, 57 in Arunachal Pradesh and 28 seats in Odisha.
The first-phase Lok Sabha constituencies include all 25 seats in Andhra Pradesh, 17 in Telangana, five in Uttarakhand, two in Meghalaya, two in Arunachal Pradesh and lone seats in Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep.
Besides, eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, seven in Maharashtra, five in Assam, four each in Bihar and Odisha, two each in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal and one seat in Chhattisgarh are also part of the first phase. These states are having multi-phase voting. � PTI