| GEO World|
| India state election season kicks off|
| Updated at: 1018 PST, Friday, November 14, 2008|
NEW DELHI: India's Maoist rebel-hit east was voting in state elections Friday, the first of a string of votes seen as a mini-referendum on the ruling Congress Party ahead of national polls next year.
Security was high in Chhattisgarh, the base of ultra-leftist rebels branded by the government as the biggest threat to India's internal security. Officials said 40,000 police and soldiers had been deployed at polling stations.
About half of the 8,879 polling booths have been designated "sensitive" or "hyper-sensitive," with voting also taking place in the Maoist strongholds of Dantewada, Bijapur and Bastar in the densely forested south of the state
Voting has been split into two stages, with the remaining areas to vote next week.
A total of six states will vote before the end of the year against a backdrop of rising food prices and growing concerns over the impact of the global financial crisis on India's economy.
The elections in Chhattisgarh will be followed by state polls in central Madhya Pradesh, the capital Delhi, remote Mizoram in the northeast and the western desert state of Rajasthan.
The held Jammu and Kashmir will vote in a seven-part election starting on Monday that is likely to see low turnout due to a boycott called by separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule.