Voting for nine-phase Lok Sabha election begins

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New Delhi: India’s general election, to elect 543 members to the 16th Lok Sabha, kicks off today, with balloting starting from two states in the northeast – Assam and Tripura.

The nine-phase voting, that will be done in 930,000 polling stations across the country with a staggering 814 million electorate, will be spread over 36 days from April 7 to May 12.

This election, many analysts say, is different from the elections of the past two decades with more focus on individual leaders, wide use of social media and the large number of first-time voters.

Stakes are high for the participants with relatively young leaders leading the charge of Congress and BJP and regional parties threatening to upset the applecart of the established players. Although campaigning has been surcharged, it has so far been peaceful.

The election also raises prospects of a leader born after Independence becoming the Prime Minister.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal, 45, whose one-and-a-half-year-old party has created a buzz in the political arena on its strong anti-corruption plank, is also aiming for a role in government formation.

Campaigning has been intense but the real battle will be fought for control of the Hindi-speaking heartland where two states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, account for 120 (80 from UP and 40 from Bihar) seats between them. Delhi goes to the polls on April 10 to elect seven MPs.

Political parties are making special efforts to woo the youth by talking of issues of economic growth and jobs.

Successive opinion polls have forecast that BJP-led NDA would be the prime contender for power. But despite a grim forecast about its prospects, due to a stagnant economy and allegations of corruption during five years of UPA II government, the Congress is making a determined bid to get another mandate from people.

The Congress is banking on its welfare initiatives including rights-based legislations to woo the poor and subaltern classes.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the party’s campaign, has been accusing the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi of playing “divisive politics”.

The BJP is riding on the perceived popularity of Mr Modi, who is seeking to tap into the apparent discontent over UPA’s performance by promising a brighter future to the people with greater security and enhanced growth in his rallies.

BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that real issues for the party were development, good governance, employment, and national security.

“We are fighting the election on economic issues. Congress is trying to communalise it,” Mr Naqvi said.

The number of voters has risen since the first election in 1951-52. It was about 173 million in 1951-52 and nearly 814 million in 2014.

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