India is preparing to start its five-stage general elections against the backdrop of Maoist attacks aimed at disrupting the polls. Thursday's voting is the first of five phases that will span a month, ending May 13th.
The first voting will be concentrated largely in eastern and northern India, which include some of the country's poorest areas. The polling is being staggered to make it easier to accommodate 714 million eligible voters and 800,000 polling stations.
Candidates will be vying for seats in India's 543-member lower house of parliament.On the eve of the vote, Maoist rebels carried out attacks in the states of Jharkand and Bihar where voting is scheduled to begin Thursday.
At least two police officers and five rebels were killed. Security has been a key concern for election officials ahead of the voting.
The two top political alliances -- the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party -- have campaigned on promises of improving the economic condition of poor people. Regional parties will play a key role in the election. Several of these groups have come together to form a loose alliance called the "Third Front."
The vote is expected to be more fragmented than in previous elections, which means whoever wins the most votes will likely have to form a governing coalition with smaller parties. Indian Prime Minister Mahmohan Singh will head the government if the Congress Party wins.