The first phase of the Lok Sabha election in the world's largest democracy has begun. The seven-phase election made a kickstart with 91 seats across 18 states and two union territories voting today. The last phase of elections will be held on May 19. The counting of votes will be held on May 23.

The states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Telangana are voting today in a single phase. Voting is also being held in parts of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest number of seats, voting is being held in eight of 80 seats. The key constituencies include Saharanpur, Kairana, Ghaziabad, Baghpat and Gautam Buddha Nagar. The Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav-Ajit Singh combine is taking o the BJP in the state. The Congress is going it alone, setting up three-cornered contests on most seats.

Among the key leaders standing for election today are five Union Ministers - Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal West), General VK Singh (Ghaziabad), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat) and Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddha Nagar). Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary are also in fray.

Opinion polls show PM Modi retains his popularity, but his government has faced opposition criticism over its handling of the economy, failure to create jobs and the crisis in the farm sector. There has also been criticism over its failure to control the right-wing fringe groups and cow vigilantes that have gone on an overdrive, leading to multiple instances of mob killings across the country.