4 killed in Indian election violence as voting kicks off

Indian women sit on school benches after casting their votes in village Sawaal near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Polls opened Thursday in the first phase of India's general elections, seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
A Muslim woman lifts her veil to identity herself to a polling agent before casting her vote in village Shahpur near Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Polls opened Thursday in the first phase of India's general elections, seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
An Indian Muslim woman casts her vote at a polling station in village Sawaal near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
An elderly Kashmiri Muslim sits outside a closed market during a strike in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Kashmiri separatists called for strike and urged people to boycott polls in Indian portion of Kashmir as voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
An Indian helps an elderly woman to walk towards a polling booth to cast her vote for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Kashmiri voters line in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station at Shadipora, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian Mishing tribal woman, looks back to ensure her vote has been cast as she prepares to leave the voting compartment during the first phase of general elections in Majuli, Assam, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Indians stand in a queue to cast their votes at a Polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad on the Thursday, Wednesday, April 11, 2019. India's national elections begins Thursday with millions of voters casting their ballots for 91 of 543 seats in the first phase, choosing their representatives from among 1,300 contestants. Voting is spread over seven days will conclude May 19, and counting will begin May 23. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An Indian Mishing tribal woman, carrying her infant casts her vote during the first phase of general elections in Majuli, Assam, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A Muslim woman walks into a polling station to cast her vote in village Shahpur near Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Polls opened Thursday in the first phase of India's general elections, seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
A policeman stands guard as Indians wait in a queue to cast their votes in village Sawaal near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people.The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Indians wait to cast their votes at a Polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad on the Thursday, Wednesday, April 11, 2019. India's national elections begins Thursday with millions of voters casting their ballots for 91 of 543 seats in the first phase, choosing their representatives from among 1,300 contestants. Voting is spread over seven days will conclude May 19, and counting will begin May 23. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An Indian polling official collects the thumb impression from a Mishing tribal woman carrying an infant during the first phase of general elections in Majuli, Assam, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Indian Muslim family shows indelible ink mark on their index fingers as they leave in a three-wheeler after casting their vote for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad on the Thursday, Wednesday, April 11, 2019. India's national elections begins Thursday with millions of voters casting their ballots for 91 of 543 seats in the first phase, choosing their representatives from among 1,300 contestants. Voting is spread over seven days will conclude May 19, and counting will begin May 23. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Kashmiri women voters stand in a queue to cast their votes outside a polling station at Shadipora, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A young boy dressed as a policeman stands as Indians wait in a queue to cast their votes in village Sawaal near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people.The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Policemen stand guard as Indian stand in queues to cast their votes in a polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An elderly Indian Mishing tribal woman, right, leaves after casting her vote at a polling booth during the first phase of general elections in Majuli, in the eastern Indian state of Assam, Thursday, April 11, 2019. With 900 million of India's 1.3 billion people registered to vote, it is the world's largest democratic exercise. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Indians stand in queues to cast their votes at a polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
A polling officer puts indelible ink mark on the index finger of a voter for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Kashmiri voters line in a queue to cast their votes outside a polling station at Shadipora, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as a young boy dressed as a policeman stands next to his mother in a queue to cast their votes in village Sawaal near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people.The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
A woman shows the indelible ink mark on her index finger after casting her vote at a polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
A policeman guides a woman to her respective polling booth as others wait in a queue to cast their votes for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad, India Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An Indian soldier guards as Kashmiri voters queue up to cast their votes outside a polling station at Shadipora, outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A Muslim woman leaves after casting her vote in village Shahpur near Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Polls opened Thursday in the first phase of India's general elections, seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Indian security personnel guard inside a motorboat during an election rally in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Srinagar constituency goes polls on the 18th of April.(AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Indian paramilitary soldiers take position inside a boat during an election rally in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Srinagar constituency which will go to polls on the 18th of April. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Supporters of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, on Shikara's take part in an election rally in the interiors of Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Srinagar constituency will go to polls on the 18th of April. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Indians stand in queues to cast their votes at a polling booth for the first phase of general elections, near Ghaziabad Thursday, April 11, 2019. Voters in 18 Indian states and two Union Territories began casting ballots on Thursday, the first day of a seven-phase election staggered over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI — At least four people were killed in clashes Thursday on the first day of polling in India's general elections, a six-week process that's seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, officials said Thursday.

Police said two workers of Andhra Pradesh state's ruling Telugu Desam party were killed in a confrontation with supporters of a regional opposition party, YSR Congress. One election official was killed in an alleged attack by suspected insurgents in India's remote northeast, the Election Commission said.

Violent clashes were also reported elsewhere in Andhra Pradesh state, where voters are casting ballots for 25 members of India's lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, and 175 state assembly seats. Another person was killed by government forces during a protest in disputed Kashmir.

Outside of Andhra Pradesh, voting was taking place Thursday in 17 other Indian states and two Union Territories in the first of a seven-phase election staged over six weeks. Turnout was estimated at more than 60% of voters.

At least 15 electronic voting machines were damaged by some angry voters during the voting in several states, Chandra Bhushan, an election commission official, told reporters.

With 900 million of India's 1.3 billion people registered to vote, it is the world's largest democratic exercise. Over the course of the election, 543 Lok Sahba seats will be decided from about a million polling stations across India.

With Modi as their frontman, the BJP won a clear majority in 2014 elections. Under the leadership of political dynasty scion Rahul Gandhi, India's National Congress party, which ruled the country for more than half a century since the 1947 independence, has struggled to coalesce India's many opposition parties into a coherent effort that could go head-to-head with the BJP.

Surveys show the ruling party projected to come out first again in this year's polls, though with a smaller mandate.

Supporters of Modi say the tea seller's son from Gujarat state has improved the nation's standing in the world. India's economy has continued to grow under Modi, jostling with the United Kingdom for the fifth-largest in the world.

"I vote for the progress of my country," said businessman Manish Kumar after casting his ballot for the BJP in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh state.

Tapan Shome, an accountant, said he and his wife voted "to make India a good, prosperous country."

But India's growth hasn't meant a better employment outlook in the country, where an estimated 1 million people join the labor pool each month. According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, employment contracted by 3.5 million jobs in the year following a 2016 demonetization program to remove most of India's banknotes from circulation.

And Modi's critics say his party's Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions and violence against Muslims and other minorities in constitutionally secular India.

Since a suicide bombing in disputed Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary forces in February, the BJP campaign has played up the threat of Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Voting also began Thursday for two parliamentary seats in Kashmir, a Himalayan region split between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. The vote came amid tight security and calls for a boycott by Muslim separatists who say the polls are an illegitimate exercise. Armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear guarded polling stations and nearby roads.

After the polls closed, violence broke out. Government forces fired at anti-India protesters killing a teenage boy and wounding at least five others in northwestern Handwara area, police and medics said.

The protesters were chanting slogans demanding an end to Indian rule over the region and throwing stones at troops, who fired bullets.

Anti-India protests and clashes were also reported from northern Palhalan area as well.

In Kashmir's northern Baramulla area voter turnout was estimated around 35%, compared to 38% in 2014. Many people said they came out to vote only to express their disapproval of the BJP, calling it an "anti-Muslim" and "anti-Kashmiri" organization.

The BJP's election manifesto promised to scrap decades-old special rights for Kashmiris under India's constitution that prevent outsiders from buying property in the territory.

"I didn't want to vote but then there's an imminent threat by politicians like Modi who are up in arms against Kashmiris," said Abdul Qayoom, a voter in Baramulla town. "They've taken our rights; now they want to dispossess us from our land. We want to stop people like Modi."

The voting follows a sweeping crackdown with police arresting hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists. Authorities also banned the movement of civilian vehicles on a key highway to keep it open exclusively for military and paramilitary convoys two days a week during the general election.

The first round Thursday could prove important for the BJP, which won only 32 of 91 seats in the first phase of the 2014 elections. It is seeking to improve its tally this time.

Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.

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This story has been corrected to show India's population is 1.3 billion.

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Associated Press writers Omer Farooq in Hyderabad, Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar and Shonal Ganguly in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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