India’s northern heartland began voting on Monday in the fifth phase of a staggered general election with Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoping his record on national security will win him a second five-year term.
More than 87 million people across seven states are eligible to vote on Monday.
The seven-phase election began on April 11. The last votes will be cast on May 19 and results will be declared by May 23.
Monday’s voting includes some of the most electorally important regions in the north, including Uttar Pradesh, the state with the most members of parliament.
Modi campaigned on his national security record, in particular his tough stand against rival Pakistan following a suicide bomb attack by a Pakistan-based militant group that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the Indian part of the Kashmir region in February.
Uttar Pradesh is also where Hindu nationalist groups have aggressively pushed for the building of a temple on the ruins of a 16th century mosque, in the city of Ayodhya, which has become a flashpoint in tension with minority Muslims.
“The main issues here are the temple, nationalism and the country’s economic development,” said Sharad Sharma, an Ayodhya-based spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or the World Hindu Council, a group linked to Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.