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India announces general election dates

PIndia’s general election will take place in seven phases between April and May, the Election Commission says.

Polls to elect a new Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, will be held from April 11 to May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

With 900 million eligible voters, India’s election will be the largest the world has seen.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will be battling the main opposition Congress and a host of regional parties.

Leaders of two powerful regional rivals have formed a coalition against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and a key bellwether state.

The lower house has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 Members of Parliament (MPs) to form a government.

So what makes these elections distinctive?

Everything about Indian general elections is colossal – the Economist magazine once compared it to a “lumbering elephant embarking on an epic trek”.

This time, more than 900 million people above the age of 18 are expected to cast their ballots at a million polling stations.

The number of voters is bigger the population of Europe and Australia combined.

Indians are enthusiastic voters – the turnout in the last general election in 2014 was more than 66 per cent, up from 45 per cent in 1951 when the first election was held.

More than 8,250 candidates representing 464 parties contested the 2014 elections, nearly a seven-fold increase from the first election.

The dates on which voting will be held are April 11, April 18, April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19.

Some states will hold polls in several phases.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

Elections in India are long-drawn-out affairs because of the need to secure polling stations.

Local police are seen to be partisan, so federal forces have to deploy. The forces have to be freed from their duties and moved all around the country.

India’s Centre for Media Studies estimated parties and candidates spent some $5bn (£3.8bn) for the 2014 elections.  –BBC

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