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13 April 2024

Kashmir dominates as India's mega vote enters second round

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as Kashmiri voters wait in a queue to cast their votes outside a poling station during the second phase of India's general elections, on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP)


Voters cast ballots in restive Indian-administered Kashmir Thursday, where authorities deployed tens of thousands of security forces as the second round of the country's enormous national election kicked off.

Troops, paramilitaries and police have poured into the region's main city, Srinagar, one of 95 constituencies across India taking part in the latest vote.

Kashmir surged into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign after a February suicide bomb attack that killed 40 paramilitaries and brought India and Pakistan - which both control part of divided Kashmir - to the brink of war.

Srinagar was a virtual ghost town on Thursday morning, and barely two voters had turned up in the first two hours at one school being used for polling, an AFP correspondent said.

More than a dozen armed police wearing bullet-proof vests guarded the site.

"I hope whoever is elected this time will help get my son a job," one man told AFP, declining to give his name.

More than 157 million of India's 900 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on the second of seven days of voting in the world's biggest election.

Security was also tight in West Bengal, notorious for political violence, where 15,000 troops were on duty in three constituencies voting Thursday.

In Chhatisgarh state, security forces raided a Maoist jungle camp in Dantewada district and killed two insurgents allegedly involved in an attack on an election convoy just before the first round of voting which left five dead, police said.

Modi has put protecting the nation at the centre of his campaign to secure a second five-year term. While seen as the favourite, he faces an increasingly tough challenge from opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

Gandhi has gone on a relentless attack against the economic record of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).