By Robin Gomes
India’s general election kicked off on Thursday with tens of millions heading to the polls, in what is described as the world’s biggest exercise in democracy.
There are some 900 million eligible voters in the world’s biggest democracy - more than the combined population of the United States, the European Union and Australia. Of these, 15 million are young first-time voters.
The 7-phase election that began on April 11, will conclude on May 19. The counting of votes will begin on May 23 and results declared accordingly.
Voters across the nation’s 29 states and 7 Union Territories are electing 543 members to the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of parliament.
The party or coalition with a simple majority of 272 MPs or more will be invited to form a government. The winning party or coalition will elect its leader who then becomes the country's prime minister.
At least 2,354 political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India - an autonomous constitutional body - for the 17th Lok Sabha elections. However, only around 500 of them are expected to field candidates.
In the 2014 elections, 8,251 candidates from more than 460 political parties contested the elections.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partners of the National Democratic Alliance, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, swept to power in the last elections in 2014. Modi is seeking a second term.
The Indian National Congress, that has ruled the country for most of its history, was comprehensively voted out of power largely because of alleged corruption.
On Thursday voters went to the polls in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep
In Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the election will be held in all 7 phases.
Alongside with the general election, the state Legislative Assembly elections will be held in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim.