Residents in India's largest state began voting Wednesday in a monthlong local election with repercussions for the whole nation.
A large re-election victory for Mayawati, the chief minister who goes by one name, could project her regional, caste-based party onto the national stage. She was facing off against the Samajwadi Party, which she ousted from power five years ago.
A strong third-place showing for India's ruling Congress Party could make it a kingmaker in Uttar Pradesh and help it gain a new partner to stabilize its fragile national coalition.
"The Congress could shed rebellious partners and could join hands with new political players," said Nominta Kumar, a political analyst at the Giri Institute of Development Studies.
Rahul Gandhi, who is touted as Congress' next prime ministerial candidate, has campaigned across the state for months hoping to prevent a poor showing that could leave the national government crippled for the last two years of its term.
More than debates over corruption and development, identity politics dominated the election campaign in the impoverished state, with Mayawati's low-caste Bahujan Samaj Party facing off against the middle-caste Samajwadi Party.
The state of Uttar Pradesh is so large, with 200 million people, that voting is spread over seven phases and will last until March 3. Results will be declared March 6.
"This is a lengthy and complicated process to provide a level playing ground to all the political parties," Chief Electoral Officer Umesh Sinha said.
More than 900 video camera and 1,800 digital cameras will be used to monitor the polls and provide live webcasts, he said. More than 1.8 million government employees and 380,000 paramilitary soldiers were supervising the poll.