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Lok Sabha 2019: India election schedule raises questions India election 2019: Hardik Patel to join Congress, Sharad Pawar bows out
(about 4 hours later)
India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. The BBC brings you the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world's largest democracy.India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. The BBC brings you the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world's largest democracy.
The latest from the campaign trailThe latest from the campaign trail
Ready, set, go! The man Congress hopes will upset Modi
What happened? What is happening?
On Sunday, the election schedule was finally unveiled, letting Indians across the country know when they would get to cast their ballot. Hardik Patel, the firebrand social activist who rose to fame challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state of Gujarat, is expected to make his first public appearance with the opposition Congress party later today.
There will be seven stages in total, starting in 20 states on 11 April - with 91 seats up for grabs - and ending on 19 May, with the final 59 seats spread across eight states. He announced he was joining Rahul Gandhi's party on Sunday.
The results will be counted four days later, on 23 May. The 25-year-old commerce graduate, who was not eligible to stand for election under India's rules until this year, first rose to political fame as the face of massive caste protests which rocked Mr Modi's state in 2015.
Why does the schedule matter? Patel is known for leading a movement demanding that the Patels - or the Patidar caste - be given better access to jobs and education through the quota system.
Well, while the schedule's length is nothing unusual - India's first election in 1951-52 took a total of three months to complete - a number of people are pointing to the unusual way some states have been split up. Why does this matter?
For example, West Bengal - where the majority of MPs are from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) - will vote over seven separate dates. Mr Patel's decision to join Congress, a dynastic party hoping to reinvent itself in this year's election, is significant. The opposition hopes that he will be pivotal in swinging the vote in Gujarat, and for good reason.
Could this have an impact on the overall vote? Possibly, according to elections expert Sanjay Kumar. His speeches and fiery oratory has attracted millions of supporters - many of whom have traditionally voted for Mr Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled Gujarat for more than two decades.
"Multiple phases in one state is not ideal," Mr Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, wrote on Twitter. "Campaign in neighborhood constituency within same state would impact voting decision." "He brings mass appeal for the Congress, which is something the party has desperately sought in the past 20 years," said Ankur Jain, BBC Gujarati's editor. "They've never had a leader as popular as him in Gujarat."
But could that give one party an unfair advantage? Some on social media have certainly suggested it may - particularly when it comes to the ruling BJP. Mr Patel has been seen as a strong threat to the BJP ever since 2015, when caste protests took off in Gujarat. "He became a prominent voice of dissent for shaking up the status quo in Gujarat," our editor explained.
Others dismissed the allegation as rubbish. For example, senior Economic Times editor Shantanu N Sharma suggested the four-phase vote in the small state of Orissa could be down to the need to move federal forces needed to patrol the polling stations from one region to the other. So, should the BJP be worried? Possibly. But remember they still managed to win the state election in 2017.
Local police are seen to be partisan, so federal forces have to deployed to secure polling stations. The forces have to be freed from their duties and moved all around the country. "It was a close call though as the party did lose seats - and Mr Patel is one of the main reasons behind that," notes Ankur Jain.
In fact, he went as far as to suggest the set-up is actually "disadvantageous to the ruling party". News from other regions:
And there are other things to consider when it comes to the schedule and how it will affect the outcome: Mr Kumar points out the choice of days - over weekends, holidays and even Mondays - could bring voter turnout down in some areas. Sharad Pawar bows out
The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has not given precise details of how it put the schedule together. The chief of the Nationalist Congress Party has been very much the dominating force of politics in the western state of Maharashtra for decades.
So when the hugely influential politician said he would not be contesting the polls, shockwaves rippled through the country.
He is stepping aside in favour of a younger member of his family.
It will be interesting to see if this decision will impact the vote share of his party. Correspondents say that people will still be voting in his name, even though he is not the candidate.
The campaign highlights so farThe campaign highlights so far
Last week saw... a lot of campaigning. Last week saw... a lot of campaigning, even before the election schedule was unveiled on Sunday.
The election date may have only been announced on Sunday, but there was no missing the fact it was coming. The announcement revealed there will be seven stages in total, starting in 20 states on 11 April - when 91 seats will be up for grabs - and ending on 19 May.
Narendra Modi's ruling BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years - all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules. However, no one could have been unaware that an election was coming: the BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years - all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules.
But even before the election officially began, campaigns were causing controversy.
On Saturday, the Election Commission was forced to remind parties they were not allowed to use pictures of the military in any of their promotional material.
The warning comes after India carried out airstrikes on what it said was a militant camp in neighbouring Pakistan last month, reportedly giving Prime Minister Modi a bump in the polls.
How do the Lok Sabha elections work?How do the Lok Sabha elections work?
India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.
Some 900 million voters - 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 - are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.Some 900 million voters - 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 - are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.
Who are the main players?Who are the main players?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).
The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India's strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India's strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.
This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.
The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.
The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.
Other regional players including Tamil Nadu's DMK and AIADMK and Telangana's TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.Other regional players including Tamil Nadu's DMK and AIADMK and Telangana's TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.
When do I vote? The dates at a glanceWhen do I vote? The dates at a glance
11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)
18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)
23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)
29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)
6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)
12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)
19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)
Key: Date: State (number of seats being contested))Key: Date: State (number of seats being contested))
Find out exactly when you are voting by visiting the Election Commission of India's websiteFind out exactly when you are voting by visiting the Election Commission of India's website