First major voting in India as anti-graft party faces test

NEW DELHI- Voters went to the polls in New Delhi on the first major day of India’s marathon national election Thursday, with the capital a key battleground for a new anti-corruption party which shot to fame last year.

Almost a fifth of the parliament’s 543 seats are up for grabs on Thursday, the third of nine phases of voting in the world’s biggest election that will end when results are published on May 16.

As well as the capital and its 17-million residents, ballots were cast in densely populated rural constituencies in northern India where the Hindu nationalist frontrunner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to poll strongly.

But Thursday was of particular importance for the 18-month-old anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which triumphed in the Delhi state election last December and is now contesting more than 400 parliamentary seats nationally.

Seen as a potential challenge to India’s established political parties earlier this year, there were signs of disillusionment among some early voters after AAP’s troubled time running the Delhi government.

The party has struggled to shake the “quitter” tag used by critics following the dramatic resignation of party chief Arvind Kejriwal just 49 days after he came to office as the capital’s chief minister.

“We need stability. So I won’t waste my vote on him,” Jitender Singh, a 38-year-old rickshaw driver in a purple turban, told AFP in the old part of the city. “For now it is Modi, Modi, Modi for me. For the country actually.”