VOTING has begun in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state where PM Narendra Modi’s BJP is making an attempt to win power for the first time.
More than a million people are eligible to vote in the first phase of the staggered elections for the Muslim-majority state’s 87 seats.
The disputed Kashmir region is claimed by both India and Pakistan.
It has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years and the rivals have fought two wars over the region.
Thousands of soldiers were deployed in and around polling stations as voting began early on Tuesday in 15 seats, amid fears of street protests and militant attacks.
Jammu and Kashmir is voting in five phases and results are due on 23 December.
Voting is also going in the central state of Jharkhand, where the BJP is also attempting to gain power.
Two regional parties dominate politics in Kashmir – the governing National Conference and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Srinagar says the BJP has never been a serious player and it has a non-existent base in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, given its hardline views on the state’s tenuous relationship with India.
But under Mr Modi, who swept to power in the May general elections, the BJP is making a bid to capture the state.
Separatist hardliners have called for a boycott of the vote, a move that many believe could help the BJP.
Hindus are a minority in Kashmir, but their votes become crucial if Muslims stay at home in protest on polling day.
But some analysts say that it will not be easy for the BJP to win the polls.
“The BJP has always been very proactive in Kashmir, but the media blitzkrieg and the euphoria [this time around]could boomerang to the advantage of the regional parties,” political analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain told the AFP news agency.