KOLKATA: Millions voted in the final phase of a marathon election in India's West Bengal on Thursday, despite a record-breaking spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths that has devastated the country.
Long queues of voters appeared outside polling booths as temperatures soared. Many in rural parts of the state failed to observe social distancing rules, with some wearing masks but others hanging them loosely on their chins or from their ears.
Sporadic violence was reported from several constituencies, with crude bombs thrown and vehicles damaged.
Thousands have been killed in political violence in West Bengal over the decades, and this year's polls - held in eight phases over the course of a month - have also triggered deadly clashes between rival parties.
Winning power in the state of 90 million would be a major victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking to end a decade of rule by the state's firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee.
Nearly 8.5 million people are eligible to vote in the eighth phase of polling in the state. Results will be released on May 2.
"In line with the Covid-19 protocols, I call upon people to cast their vote and enrich the festival of democracy," Modi tweeted on Thursday.
India on Thursday added 379,257 cases and 3,645 deaths - the highest since the start of the pandemic.
The world's second-most infected nation has recorded almost 18.4 million cases so far with nearly 205,000 dead.