India, which is home to 1.3 billion people, is scheduled to go for general elections from April 11 to elect its 17th Lok Sabha, or lower house of the parliament.
With world’s largest electorate -- nearly 900 million -- the elections will be held in seven phases until May 19, the counting will be held on May 23 and the results are expected to be announced the same day.
Indian parliament has two houses -- Lok Sabha (Lower house) and Rajya Sabha (Upper House).
Lok Sabha has 545 seats; 543 are directly elected by people. The remaining two seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community and India’s president nominates two members for the seats.
Any party or coalition (of parties) needs a minimum of 272 seats to form a government.
The first election to Lok Sabha was held in 1951 and the term of parliament in the country is five years. It will be 17th consecutive time that people will vote to elect the central government in India.
Members of Lok Sabha and provincial assemblies elect 250 seats of Rajya Sabha for which candidates are supported by different parties. Certain seats are reserved for people with extra-ordinary contributions to national esteem.
India has 29 states, which have state governments elected after every five years, except Jammu and Kashmir which has six-year term, and 7 union territories which are directly governed by the central government.
Voting age for a common Indian is 18.
According to Election Commission of India (ECI), the 2019 elections will have around 900 million voters. 15 million voters will be in the age group of 18 to 19 years.
People would press buttons with symbols of political parties of their choice on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). India has stopped using ballot paper for elections, however, opposition parties have protested against the use of EVMs alleging its misuse.
The voters will cast their votes at approximately 1 million polling stations. More than 11 million officials will be on duty during the electioneering which expands over 5 weeks.
Interestingly, over 185 candidates are fighting for a single Nizamabad seat in Telangana state and poll exercise cost is expected to cross Indian Rs 350 million ($5.04 million).
ECI data says that it has a total of 2,293 registered political parties.
In 2014, more than two-thirds of total voters cast their ballots. 8,251 candidates represented 464 parties in the elections and in total, parties and candidates spent more than $5 billion for the elections.
India’s electoral rules say there must be a polling place within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of every habitation.
India is world’s second-most expensive elections only after the United States.
Phase 1 - April 11: The polling will be held in 91 constituencies in 20 states.
Phase 2 - April 18: The polling will be held in 97 constituencies in 13 states.
Phase 3 - April 23: The polling will be held in 115 constituencies in 14 states.
Phase 4 - April 29: The polling will be held in 71 constituencies in nine states.
Phase 5 - May 6: The polling will be held in 51 constituencies in seven states.
Phase 6 - May 12: The polling will be held in 59 constituencies in seven states.
Phase 7 - May 19: The polling will be held in 59 constituencies in eight states.
Major political parties
Ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest contender of the elections, with current Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term.
In 2014, the BJP, after winning 284 seats, formed a coalition government with its allies that won 54 seats.
Largest opposition party Indian National Congress (INC), led by Rahul Gandhi, which was thrown out of power in 2014, has recently got a boost after the party won three state elections in 2018.
INC has not yet named its prime ministerial candidate.
All major parties are tying up with regional and local parties seeking to win the elections.
There were efforts for a larger anti-BJP pre-poll alliance by parties, but the plan could not be materialized fully. However, many regional parties have cobbled up together to keep “BJP out of power” inviting criticism from the right-wing party.
Titled 'Sankalpit Bharat, Sashakt Bharat' (Determined India, Empowered India), the BJP has promised in its manifesto to deliver on 75 promises in India's 75th year of Independence i.e. 2022.
BJP also reiterated its promise that it would remove decades-old special rights for the people of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
“Nationalism is our inspiration,” Modi said at a release of the BJP's election manifesto at the party headquarters in New Delhi in April.
“We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state,” the BJP manifesto said, referring to the amendment to the Indian constitution which gives special privileges to the people of the Jammu and Kashmir state.
Meanwhile, INC election promises focused on agrarian crisis and unemployment, apart from assuring the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the parliament and a double allocation of funds for education. Party chief Rahul Gandhi said that the manifesto “reflects the aspirations of the people”.
The party also promised to remove contentious sedition law from Indian constitution besides reforms in ownership of booming media houses.
However, the country’s oldest party is banking on its promise of minimum income scheme - NYAY - that guarantees Indian Rs 72,000 ($1034) a year to the poorest 20% of households.
Digital ballot papers for armed forces
For the first time in the country’s history, 1.66 million Indian armed forces and the Central Armed Police Forces will receive ballot papers electronically to cast their votes.
In the past, the poll officers would post ballot papers to the forces personnel.
Tough situation in disputed Jammu and Kashmir
Holding elections in disputed Jammu and Kashmir has been a tough exercise for the Indian state especially in the aftermath of 2016 anti-India protests.
Last time, when by-elections were held for one of the six Lok Sabha seats in Srinagar, eight civilians were killed during anti-election protests and the election registered lowest number of votes in past several decades.
Situation deteriorated ever since
A Kashmir-based Journalist, Shah Abbas, told Anadolu Agency: “The elections are held in presence of heavy government forces in a region which is considered as highly militarized.”
The disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir will go to polls in five phases starting from April 11.
“Any prediction [about elections] is difficult but it seems that present election will be different given the huge presence of army, paramilitary and police forces,” Abbas said.
The Kashmir dispute has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since the independence of the two countries in 1947.
"Elections in no way can impact the overall situation in Kashmir because this exercise is not new to the region but going on since 1953," Abbas said.
An umbrella body of 185 farmers' organizations -- Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh (RKM) -- urged people to vote against the BJP.
RKM released a booklet, titled Narendra Modi Kisan Virodhi (Narendra Modi is anti-farmer), listing out the alleged failures of the BJP-led government on the agricultural front.
It alleged that the Modi government had not taken a single step to make farmers debt-free, saying it waived corporate loans worth Rs 2.72 trillion ($39 billion).
‘Vote out divisive politics’
In run up to elections, several hundred theatre artists and filmmakers across India have made vehement appeals to “vote out divisive politics from power”.
“Today, that very idea of India is under threat. Today, song, dance, laughter is under threat. Today, our beloved Constitution is under threat. The institutions that have to nurture argument, debate and dissent have been suffocated. To question, to call out lies, to speak the truth, is branded ‘anti-national’…,” said a statement released by theatre practitioners of India on April 4.
Mood of voters
Explaining the mood of the voters in India, Praveen Donthi, a New Delhi-based journalist, told Anadolu Agency: “We will get to know about the wisdom of people in the coming elections. Whether this majoritarian government will be given mandate again or it will be rejected. We will know whether Indian democracy is good at self-preservation or not.”
Donthi said that 2014 election was “all about Modi”.
The journalist said the far-right ruling party is “largely relying on hyper nationalism and communalism apart from cobbling an alliance based on caste and regional equations”.
“It will be the BJP's trump card since they haven't been able to deliver on any other front, especially on the economic front,” he added.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.