Voters have taken to the polls in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in a contest seen as the biggest electoral test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.
Polls opened in India's most populous state on Saturday as part of the first of seven-phase assembly elections, with 26 million people eligible to vote and a total of 839 candidates vying for seats to govern 73 constituencies.
The polls are being seen as a referendum on Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his policies, including a ban on high-value notes.
Modi’s controversial decision last year that withdrew two India's high-value currency bank notes from circulation sparked months of financial uproar and disrupted daily life and commerce in the vast South Asian country.
The northern state voted overwhelmingly for the right-wing party in the 2014 general elections; however, pollsters say it will be tough for Modi’s BJP to win the majority of votes this time.
"The government will be judged on the popularity or lack of popularity of its demonetization policy in India's most populous state," said Ashok Malik, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, one of India's leading think tanks.
"There will also be other factors at play in these state polls, but Modi's BJP will be judged in comparison to its performance in the state in 2014," he added.
Home to over 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is deemed important because the state sends the highest number of MPs to the upper house of the national parliament, where the BJP currently lacks a majority.
The final results from Uttar Pradesh, along with elections in four other battleground states of Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, are to be announced on March 11.