by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, April 11 (Xinhua) -- As voting for the first phase of India's 17th general elections began Wednesday, calls poured in urging voters for mass participation.
The first call came from the country's chief election commissioner Sunil Arora appealing voters to cast votes.
"The commission's vision will take a practical shape if voters, especially the first timers show adequate zeal and faith," Arora told India's official broadcaster All India Radio.
Election Commission of India (ECI) said it has made adequate arrangements and security measures to ensure a free and fair polling in the polling areas.
"The voting is underway in all parliamentary constituencies," an official said. "We are getting information the voting is going on peacefully."
According to officials, 142 million people are expected to cast their votes in the first phase of the seven-phase elections.
Reports said the voters, including women, elderly and first timers, are waiting in long queues outside polling stations for their turn to cast franchise.
Political analysts said the ongoing election is the largest edition with 900 million eligible voters across India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to social media to encourage voters for mass participation to elect their representatives for the country's lower house of parliament, or the Lok Sabha.
"2019 Lok Sabha elections commence today. I call upon all those whose constituencies are voting in the first phase today to turn out in record numbers and exercise their franchise. I specially urge young and first-time voters to vote in large numbers," Modi wrote on Twitter.
The election is being seen as a referendum on Modi, who is seeking a second consecutive term. In the last elections, Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bagged 282 seats, securing a historic landslide win.
The main opposition Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi urged voters to vote "for soul of India." Gandhi reminded the voters of the promises made by Modi during last election campaign and called them to vote wisely.
Lok Sabha has a strength of 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 lawmakers to form a government. Congress Party in the last elections won 44 seats.
In the ongoing elections, the ruling BJP is seeking to regain power under the leadership of Modi. He is facing tough competition from Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi family.
The opposition parties including Congress have accused BJP of having failed to deliver on its promises. However, Modi has blamed Congress of being in league with neighbor country Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the calls for the participation are coming from almost all the political leaders active on social media.
To coincide with the first phase of elections, Google released a new doodle that marked the beginning of India's general elections. The Google doodle has an inked finger, when clicked on, leads users to a page that explains the voting procedure. The page also contains information which can be helpful for first-time voters in the country.
The elections across India would continue until May 19 and counting of votes was scheduled for May 23.