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India: Third Round of Voting Begins - 2004-04-26

Millions of Indians cast ballots Monday in the third round of voting in national parliamentary elections. The voting covers parts of Kashmir, a region claimed by India and Pakistan and where four people died in election-related violence last week.

Troops were on high alert in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, where voters considered whether an Islamic insurgency would keep them away from polling stations.

"We hope the turnout would be good," says candidate Omar Abdullah, from an opposition party, the National Conference. "We hope that those people who want to freely participate in the election process can freely participate."

Islamic separatists have fought a 14-year war in Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan. It is one of 11 states where voters are electing representatives in the world's largest democracy.

The election of the 543-member parliament takes place in five phases as it moves across the country.

The poll is largely a contest between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP and the opposition Congress Party, linked to India's best-known political dynasty.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty ruled through the Congress Party for nearly four decades after independence from Britain in 1947. Sonia Gandhi heads the party and her son, Rahul Gandhi, is running for a parliamentary seat.

The contest between the Congress party and the BJP was at its most dramatic Monday when voters cast ballots in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to the constituencies of both the Gandhi dynasty and Prime Minister Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister called the parliamentary poll six months earlier than necessary to cash in on the party's popularity following India's recent economic successes and a thaw in relations with neighbor, Pakistan.

Speaking while campaigning, Rahul Gandhi says his focus is not in competing with the BJP's success on big issues, but in developing local districts such as Amethi, where projects like road building would improve the lives of people who live there. "My focus is Amethi. I'm not interested in competing with that," he says. "My focus is local here."

India has 650 million eligible voters. Millions of polling workers and security personnel are involved in five phases of voting across the country.

Election results are expected May 13.