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India is Gearing Up For 2014 General Elections

With the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House) Elections coming up India is witnessing a boom in political activities. The political parties have started campaigning in full swing. The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the election schedule on 5th March 2014. The Elections for the 543 parliamentary seats will be held in nine phases, which will be the largest in the country’s history, spanning over more than a month from 7 April to 12 May 2014. The State Legislative Assembly Elections in 6 states (Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Haryana) will also be held at the same time.

This election will also be the costliest general election in the history of the country with the Election Commission of India estimating that the election will cost the exchequer Rs 3,500 crores, excluding the expenses incurred for security and individual political parties. Parties are expected to spend 30,500 crores (about US$5 billion) in the election. This is three times the amount spent in the previous election and is the world’s second highest after the US$7 billion spent on the 2012 U.S. election. According to the Election Commission of India, the electoral strength in 2014 is 81.45 crores (814.5 million), the largest in the world. There is an increase of 10 crores (100 million) newly eligible voters.

Electronic Voting Machine.
Electronic Voting Machine.

The general elections for the 16th Lok Sabha will see the ruling Indian National Congress-led UPA, with 232 members in Lok Sabha, face a spirited challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The NDA has 132 members in the present House. According to the opinion polls it is expected that NDA will be the frontrunner in the election, with the BJP as the biggest party.

The incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is retiring and has ruled himself out as a prime ministerial candidate. Running on his strong economic track record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has emerged as the favourite, reflecting popular anger over corruption and scandals that have plagued the Congress-led federal government. Although Modi doesn’t seem to be popular in South India where regional parties are the frontrunners. Leading the campaign for the Congress party is Rahul Gandhi, the latest in line in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has given India three prime ministers and its most powerful contemporary politician, his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

This time, after two consecutive Congress-led governments headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India seems unlikely to make another Gandhi a prime minister. Adding to the uncertainty of the elections, a new anti-corruption party has emerged as a serious player. The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party is having a national debut but is not likely to win many seats; however, it is setting the agenda for other parties by campaigning against high utility prices and corruption. Party leader Arvind Kejriwal told the media that his party would contest most of the seats in the coming elections and would bring a revolutionary change in India.

Election Commission of India

With the Model Code of Conduct coming into action, political parties are being careful in their approach to the people. In a ruling by the Supreme Court of India, it has been made mandatory for every candidate running for office to file an affidavit declaring their assets, any criminal cases pending on them, their educational qualifications etc. The expenditure by the candidates used for campaigning is also controlled and monitored. The election commission monitors all the political activities to make sure that the elections are held in a free and fair manner. The ECI, for this purpose, appoints observers which are usually high ranked bureaucrats. During the elections, they are on duty under the ECI and are not part of the government to avoid misuse of these officers by the political executives. The term of the current Lok Sabha expires June 1 and a new House has to be constituted by May 31. The counting of elections will take place on 16th March.

[Image 2 Attribute: Electronic Voting Machine] [Image 3 Attribute: Election Commission of India]
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