At least 18 people were killed as India's voters cast ballots in the first part of a five-stage election in the world's largest democracy.  More than 2.5 million security officers were on duty in the 15 Indian states and two territories where balloting took place.  Polling was disrupted in several states, where attacks were launched on polling booths and security forces.

For the 15th time since independence, Indians have begun choosing their national lawmakers.

Security was especially heavy in several central and eastern states, where Maoist insurgents, known as Naxalites, disrupted some polling by killing election officials and soldiers, and burning voting stations.

Deputy National Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan said violence or other types of disruptions affected 86 polling stations - a tiny fraction of the total. 

"There have been incidents of violence and particularly in the Naxal-affected area," he said.  "These particular incidents need to be seen in the context of number of polling stations, number of parliamentary constituencies involved in today's election process." 

In Andhra Pradesh, the incumbent government at the state and national level, led by the Congress Party, is pinning its hopes on voters such as dental surgeon Minhaj Uddin Ahmed.  He told VOA News the electorate is making its decision based on the performance of the government and what it has been providing for the public.

"All these things we need to take into consideration before voting.  Nowadays, people are well acquainted and very much aware of the political environment here," he said.  "People are very much happy with this particular government right now in Andhra Pradesh."

At another polling station nearby, housewife Kota Durga had a different opinion.  She complains prices of commodities have become too high and tells VOA she voted for change.

Durga also laments that women should feel safe and not feel it is difficult to come out of the house.

Election officials put the turnout in Andhra Pradesh at 65 percent.  The state holds a second phase of voting next Thursday. 

Polls show a tight race in this key state and analysts say the outcome here could determine the balance of power at the national level.

Neither of the two main parties, Congress or the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is expected to win enough of the 543 Lower House seats to form a government by itself.  That has leftist and regional parties playing a more critical role on the election stage in Andhra Pradesh and other key states.

Nationally, more than 700 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the month-long election, which is staggered for logistical and security reasons.