New Delhi votes in crucial state election

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is bidding to win a crucial state election in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is bidding to win a crucial state election in New Delhi.

Voting has begun for a crucial state election in India's capital with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party trying to regain power after a 22-year gap and major victories in a national vote.

Residents lined up on Saturday in long queues across New Delhi neighbourhoods, where a total of 14.6 million voters are registered to cast ballots. Results will be declared on Tuesday.

The polls pit Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party against the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, or "common man's" party, whose pro-poor policies have focused on fixing state-run schools and providing free health care and bus fares for women during the five years in power.

The BJP campaign has reopened old wounds in the Hindu-Muslim divide and treats the election as a referendum on nearly two months of protests across India against a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Surveys by television news channels have predicted a clear victory for the Aam Admi Party in the 70-member state assembly.

The Congress, a distant third party, has run a lacklustre campaign and is expected to fare poorly.

During the campaigning, BJP members called for violence against minority Muslims by invoking the spectre of archenemy Pakistan.

A win would be hugely symbolic and likely to embolden Modi and his party to pursue a pro-Hindu agenda with vigour, while a loss could dent Modi's charisma.

Modi's BJP was voted out of power in New Delhi in 1998 by the Congress party, which had run the government for 15 years.

In the 2015 elections, the Aam Admi Party won a landslide victory by capturing 67 of 70 seats.

The BJP could win only three seats despite winning the 2014 national elections

Australian Associated Press