India announces general election from April 11, results on May 23

PM Narendra Modi is running for a second straight term in the national election to be held in seven phases.

    India's Election 2019

    Phase 1: April 11

    Phase 2: April 18

    Phase 3: April 23 

    Phase 4: April 29

    Phase 5: May 6

    Phase 6: May 12

    Phase 7: May 19

    COUNTING: May 23

     

    India has announced the dates for a national election that will see close to 900 million voters cast their ballots in nearly a million polling booths - the world's biggest ever democratic exercise.

    In a press conference in the capital New Delhi on Sunday, the country's chief election commissioner, Sunil Arora, unveiled the timeline for India's mammoth seven-phase election to be held on April 11, 18, 23, 29 and May 6, 12 and 19.

    The counting of votes will be held on May 23. 

    Elections will also be held simultaneously to four State assemblies -- Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Odisha -- along with the parliamentary polls. Jammu and Kashmir will not be going to polls in this excercise although the state has been under central rule since the coalition governement state government collapsed in June 2018.

    Although admired for its ability to conduct the polls with few hitches, India's election commission had come under pressure from opposition parties for the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs).

    To allay fears of poll fraud, Arora said the Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system will be used in all the polling booths during the election.

    VVPAT is a device that is attached to an EVM and prints a small slip of paper carrying the symbol, name and serial number of the candidate voted for. This is visible to the voter for a short period and can be later used by the ECI to verify the votes.

    The voters will elect 543 of 545 MPs to India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha.

    The remaining two seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community, which traces part of its ancestry to Europeans who intermarried with Indians in the colonial era. These members are nominated by India's president.

    India's Hindu nationalist PM Narendra Modi is seeking a second straight term [Abhishek N Chinnappa/Reuters]

    Modi seeks second term

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be running for a second term against a group of opposition parties, led mainly by Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, the latest scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.

    The two leaders are the strongest challengers from a field of hundreds of political parties from across the culturally and geographically diverse country of 1.3 billion.

    Modi, whose right-wing party won an outright majority in the 2014 election, enters the race in a strong position and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to defeat Gandhi's Congress once again.

    His Hindu nationalist political machine is riding on Modi's personal popularity and an array of emotive issues, including renewed hostility with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

    But opinion polls have suggested ebbing support for the BJP mainly over jobs and economy, and even that the party may fall short of the 272 seats it needs to form a government on its own.

    Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party, flanked by his sister and a leader of the party, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra [Pawan Kumar/Reuters]

    The opposition

    Gandhi, long criticised as a lacklustre leader, has also started looking more recently like a serious challenger.

    Congress, which has ruled India for much of its time since independence from Britain in 1947, won three key state election victories in December, chipping into Modi's core support base in the Hindi "Cow Belt" regions, home to nearly half a billion voters.

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    He has also gone on the offensive over Modi's economic record, with the Congress state wins attributed to the prime minister's perceived failure to help impoverished farmers and to create enough jobs.

    Modi has also sought to contrast his claim of being a humble tea seller against Gandhi, the 48-year-old half-Italian princeling of India's most famous family.

    Gandhi's party, the Congress, has made alliances with a number of regional parties across India in an attempt to make the 2019 election a bipolar contest between the BJP and a united opposition.

    But in critical states like Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 legislators to Lok Sabha, the Congress has failed to align with the main regional players - the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

    Parties asked to stop using army images

    India's election commission has asked political parties not to use images of the country's armed forces in their campaign posters and other advertising material during the general election.

    The poll panel's notice followed pictures posted on social media recently showing the ruling BJP using images in their campaign posters of a captured Indian Air Force pilot recently returned by Pakistan after a clash with India over the disputed Kashmir territory.

    The election commission said in a notice on its website on Saturday that political parties must refrain from using photographs of defence personnel in advertisements or their election campaign propaganda as the armed forces are "apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy".

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    The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down on February 27 by Pakistani aircraft during clashes between the two nuclear-armed powers that began last month after at least 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide blast in Indian-administered Kashmir.

    India blamed Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) for the attack, and later air raided a site inside Pakistan it claimed was a JeM training camp. That triggered aerial clashes that led to Varthaman's capture and subsequent release two days later.

    Recent social media posts showed a campaign poster in New Delhi with Varthaman's face alongside Modi's, along with the words: "If Modi is in power, it is possible! NaMo again 2019!" NaMo is an acronym for Modi.

    Election staff prepare Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) ahead of India's general election [Amit Dave/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies