Parliamentary elections in India will be held from April 7 to May 12 spread over nine days in the longest running democratic exercise in the country's history in which an estimated 814 million people are expected to cast their votes, the Election Commission announced today.
Counting of votes in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies will be held on a single day on May 16, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath announced at a press conference here.
Elections to legislatures in three states—Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim--will also be held simultaneously.
The parliamentary polls will be held on April 7, 9, 10, 12, 17, 24, 30, May 7 and May 12.
Special camps will be organised at all polling stations on March 9 for voters to verify, add or modify their details in the electoral list.
Election Commission has decided to distribute photo election slips with polling station details at his/her doorstep, within 3-7 days from the date of the poll.
Jammu and Kashmir state have polling on April 10, 17, 24, 30, May 7 while West Bengal is to have the exercise on April 17, 24, 30, May 7, 12
The world's biggest voting exercise pits main opposition BJP's Narendra Modi, who is the party's prime ministerial candidate, against Rahul Gandhi, star campaigner of ruling Congress party asking voters for a third consecutive term in power since 2004 when BJP-led NDA was voted out.
Opinion polls have forecast that the BJP under Modi will emerge as the largest party. Indian elections have not thrown up a clear majority for any party since 1989 and the country has been ruled by coalitions since then.
With the announcement of the election dates, the model code of conduct has gone into force preventing the government from making any policy decision which can be seen as influencing voters. It also prohibits political parties from making any unsubstantiated allegations against rivals.
Meanwhile, BJP expressed confidence that it will be the preferred choice of people when votes are counted on May 16 while Congress said it will prove wrong opinion polls which have ruled out a third term for it.
"We are ready for elections. We are sure of a clear majority on the basis of the popular support our campaign and our prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi are getting," BJP President Rajnath Singh said.
Telecom Minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said there is unity in the country and all citizens are treated equally only when Congress is in power.
Referring to numerous opinion polls which have declared BJP as the front-runner and a defeat for Congress, he said similar surveys in 2004 had termed BJP as favourites.
In 2009 too, he said opinion polls had not predicted a win for Congress.
BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal, which rules northern state of Punjab, predicted a downfall of Congress. Punjab Chief minister Prakash Singh Badal claimed Congress would suffer a crushing defeat after which the party would disintegrate.