NEW DELHI: India will hold a general election in seven stages starting on April 11, the election commission said on Sunday, in what will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise with Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to benefit from tensions with Pakistan.
About 900 million citizens will be eligible to vote, 15 million of them aged between 18 and 19, in a mammoth exercise lasting more than a month, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said at a press briefing in the capital New Delhi on Sunday.Until a few weeks ago, a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices were seen denting Modi’s popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now has a clear advantage after India’s armed forces clashed with those of arch-rival Pakistan last month, triggering a wave of patriotic fervor across the country of 1.3 billion. Of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs, 241 could go to Modi’s ruling alliance, compared with 141 to the Congress party-led opposition alliance, according to a nationwide survey of 50,000 people by the CVoter polling agency conducted over the past four weeks. “The Hindi heartland — barring Uttar Pradesh — has charged up due to the Pakistan issue,” said Yashwant Deshmukh, founder of CVoter, referring to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that sends the largest number of lawmakers to India’s lower house of parliament and is a key battleground for the election. Earlier surveys released in January, before the most recent tension with Pakistan, showed the BJP and its allies emerging as the largest group in the election but falling short of a majority. In 2014’s general election, the BJP won 282 out of 543 contested seats - the strongest showing for any political party in three decades. However, the main opposition Congress party, which late last year ousted the BJP from power in three largely rural states, is trying to band together with regional and caste-based parties to oust Modi. Congress, controlled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for most of its post-independence history, is banking on voter resentment to propel the opposition alliance to victory.