Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The Election Commission has announced the dates of the seven phases in which the Lok Sabha elections will be held across India in a press conference held on Sunday at 5pm (IST); 3.30pm UAE time. The number of voters in the Lok Sabha elections will be around 900 million, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced, while calling the upcoming polls the "largest festival of democracy".

"The Election Commission has attempted a very comprehensive preparation for the conduct of the election," he added.

A million polling stations to be spread across the country, said Arora; that's up from 900,000 such offices in 2014.

He added, that there will be no state polls in Jammu and Kashmir for now, only parliamentary elections.

The Lok Sabha polls will be divided as follows: Phase 1 to encompass 91 constituencies in 20 states; Phase 2: 97 constituencies in 13 states;Phase 3: 115 constituencies in 14 states; Phase 4: 71 constituencies in 9 states; Phase 5: 51 constituencies in 7 states; Phase 6: 59 constituencies in 7states; and Phase 7 in 59 constituencies in 8 states.

Arora said the model code of conduct would come into immediate effect from Sunday. Among other things, the model code of conduct bars the government from announcing any policy move that may impact voters’ decision.

Arora said all political advertisements on social media will need pre-certification.

Arora also said at the conference that the total electorate in this Lok Sabha elections will be 900 million, of which 15 million voters are in the 18-19 age group.

Without disclosing the number, he said "a large number of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs)" will be deployed for the polls and justified breaking up some states into many rounds from the security point of view.

He said a sufficient number of video cameras and CCTVs besides web-casting will be used during the electoral battle.

"There will be extensive web-casting of sensitive voting booths. All critical events will be videographed."

In 2014, the Lok Sabha elections were held across nine phases, beginning on April 7 and ending on May 9. The counting of votes took place on May 16.

The total contestants in fray were 8,251, with an average of 15 candidates in each constituency. However, deposit was forfeited in case of 7,000 contestants.

A total of over 55 crore voters (66.3 per cent) exercised their vote, while there were 9.2 million polling stations. There were nearly 60 lakh ‘NOTA’ votes.

Out of total 543 elected candidates, only 62 were women from 668 who had contested.

Time and space allocated to the polls

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will see staggered Lok Sabha elections spread over all seven phases starting from April 11 to May 19.

Chief Election Commissioner Arora told the media that 22 states and union territories will see single-phase election, Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will see polling in two phases, Assam and Chhattisgarh will have three-phase polling, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha will see four-phase polling and Jammu and Kashmir will have five-phase elections.

The places where elections will take place in a single phase are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Chandigarh, Delhi and Puducherry.

Elections to Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha to be held simultaneously with the general elections to the Lok Sabha, it was also announced.

Watch the whole press meet here

What will happen at the polls?

More than 800 million voters from the Himalayan peaks to the deserts and tropical shores are eligible to vote for a new government for the next five years in an enormous democratic undertaking that will span several weeks.

They will elect 543 lawmakers to India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, which governs the nation from the capital New Delhi.

Modi against Gandhi

Rahul and Modi, Modi and Rahul
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Image Credit: PTI

The election will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi run for a second term against Rahul Gandhi, the latest scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty to seek leadership of the world's second-most populous nation.

They are the two strongest challengers from a field of hundreds of political parties from across the culturally and geographically diverse country of 1.25 billion.

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

The prime minister has also sought to contrast his humble origins as a tea seller against Gandhi, the 48-year-old privileged half-Italian princeling of India's most famous family.

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

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.

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.

In the 2014 elections, 830 million people were eligible to vote but only 550 million cast their ballots.

The BJP said it was ready for the election battle.

BJP spokesperson Bizay Sonkar Shastri told IANS: "We are prepared for the polls. We are already in election mode. Our cadres are contacting the voters at the booth level. We have the achievements of the central government as well as the state governments.

"People of the country have full faith on Modiji. We are confident that the country will again elect Modi as Prime Minister."

Congress spokesperson Shakti Singh Gohil said the Election Commission delayed announcing the Lok Sabha election schedule so as to help the BJP.

"The elections in 2014 were announced on March 5... The delay this time is only to allow Modi to use government platform and taxpayers money to woo voters by making grand announcements. This delay is making people to point fingers at EC even before the elections begin."