New Delhi, Mar 5 (IBNS) India's Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday sounded the bugle for the world's largest democratic exercise by announcing the dates for a nine-phase parliamentary elections from Apr 7 to May 12 in which the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress will be challenged by a determined Hindu nationalist BJP that has named Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its PM candidate.
Voting will be held on Apr 7, Apr 9, Apr 10, Apr 12, Apr 17, Apr 24, Apr 30, May 7 and May 12 across a total of 543 parliamentary constituencies, said Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath here addressing media on the mammoth exercise staggered over a month.
"Counting will take place on 16.05.2014 (May 16, Friday) and is expected to be completed on the same day," said a press note issued by Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan.
The term of 15th Lok Sabha expires on May 31.
The Commission said 814 million people are eligible to cast their votes this year in which the Congress, that became unpopular owing to several financial scandals, will face a tough challenge from Modi, who has been pitched as a strong leader with a proven track record in his state Gujarat by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spearheading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has announced Modi as their PM candidate long before, Congress did not name its vice-president Rahul Gandhi, heir to the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, as their official PM candidate though the fight is clearly between him and the Gujarat strongman who however continues to battle the ghosts of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots while seeking his acceptability among all forces and communities.
Modi is ahead of Gandhi in polls but that does not ensure a clear majority to NDA.
The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by its leader Arvind Kejriwal who has pitched his umbrella outfit of anti-corruption crusaders and social activists, as a true representative of the common people (as the nomenclature itself suggests) , is a new factor in Indian politics too and it can offer a real challenge to the mighty national and regional parties having won polls in the national capital earlier.
There is also talks of a Third Front in India sans BJP or Congress but there is no clear shape of that grouping yet.
Several regional parties like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee´s Trinamool Congress can also play significant role after the results if the UPA or the NDA fails to obtain clear majority.
Elections to world's largest democracy pose immense challenges with respect to logistics and man and material management and Commission's endeavour in this direction has been to consult all stakeholders, invite inputs from all relevant departments/ organizations and evolve a coordinated framework for smooth delivery of yet another round of General Elections, said the EC.
The EC said state assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha will be held simultaneously.
"The Commission has taken into account the fact that the tenure of the Legislative Assemblies of the States of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will expire on 02.06.2014, 07.06.2014 and 21.05.2014 respectively. It is also conscious of the fact that a new Assembly in Sikkim has to be constituted before 22nd May, 2014," it said.
The EC further said: "After taking into account all relevant factors, the Commission has decided to hold elections for new Legislative Assemblies for these three States, simultaneously with the General Elections to the 16th Lok Sabha."
"Elections to the different Assembly Constituencies in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha will follow the same Schedule as for the corresponding Parliamentary Constituencies of which these are the relevant Assembly segments.
"For elections to the Legislative Assembly of Sikkim, the same Schedule as for the corresponding Parliamentary Constituency will be followed for all stages up to the date of counting," said the EC.
The Commission said it has decided to forward its recommendations to the Governors of these three States, for issuing Notifications (under Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951), calling upon the respective Legislative Assembly Constituencies to elect members to the concerned Legislative Assemblies.
April 7: Phase One to cover six constituencies in two states
April 9: Phase Two to cover seven constituencies in five states
April 10: Phase Three to cover 92 constituencies in 14 states
April 12: Phase Four to cover five constituencies in three states.
April 17: Phase Five to cover 122 constituencies in 13 states and UTs.
April 24: Phase Six to cover 117 constituencies in 12 states
April 30: Phase Seven to cover 89 constituencies in nine states
May 7: Phase Eight to cover 64 constituencies in seven states.
May 12: Last and Ninth Phase to cover 41 constituencies in three states.