GAUHATI, India —
The party has not even formally declared Gandhi as its candidate for prime minister, political maneuvering aimed at protecting him from being scapegoated if the party — and the family — is forced from power.
But even as Congress faces a backlash, critics of Modi question whether the Hindu nationalist candidate can be a truly secular leader, noting he has failed to take responsibility or apologize for communal rioting that left more than 1,000 dead in his state in 2002. He is accused of doing little to stop the anti-Muslim rampage, though he denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with a crime.
The BJP was the last major party on Monday to release its campaign manifesto, which envisions India's path toward full development through futuristic infrastructure projects such as high-speed trains, 100 new modern cities and wireless Internet facilities in public places.
But such ambitious plans hold little appeal for most voters in rural Assam, where voting took place Monday in five constituencies as well as in one in neighboring Tripura state.
Here, people are more concerned about basic needs like guarding against the dangers of flooding, soil erosion and heavy rains washing away homes, or building more roads and bridges to connect far-away towns and villages to the main cities.
"As monsoon sets in, we get worried about our daily meals," said Pulok Nath, a voter in Lakhimpur. "We have been living on a mud embankment for years now after floods washed away our home and large part of our village."
Several of the 8,000 polling stations were temporarily closed while faulty voting machines were fixed or replaced. At the end of Monday's voting, officials said turnout for the first day of polling was 74 percent.
Both Congress and BJP were hoping for a strong showing in the seven northeast states nicknamed the "Seven Sisters" — occupying a remote region nestled between China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Burma and made up of diverse ethnicities. Gains for Congress among the 25 northeast seats would help offset expected losses elsewhere in India, while the BJP wants to seize one of Congress' traditional strongholds.