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India prepares for world’s largest elections

The world’s largest democracy, India, has announced that it will hold a general election in April and May, Skynews reports.

In what will be a gigantic exercise, more than 814 million people are due to vote in 543 MPs for its 16th parliament.

The nine-day voting process will begin on April 9 and end on May 12 with the counting and results due to be announced on May 16.

Thousands of police and paramilitary forces will be involved in providing security to this process, with security particularly tight in the troubled regions of Andhra Pradesh Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa where the Naxal (Maoist) movement has effectively reduced government authority in their areas of influence.

Parts of Kashmir – which has a very large Indian army presence because of the secessionist issues -  are also sensitive.

There are two main political parties in India – the Congress and the Bharaitya Janata Party.

According to analysts, neither party is likely to gain a majority and will have to gather its numbers from smaller regional parties to form a coalition government.

On the other hand, a number of smaller parties are aligning to form an alternate third front as a challenge to the two main national parties.

The mood in the country has changed against the two-term Congress-led government.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is reeling under an economic slowdown with growth down from double digits to just over 4.5%.

Inflation and unemployment is on the rise and many believe there is a policy paralysis within the government.

But what plagues the government most are the enormous corruption scandals that have tumbled out over the last few years.

Although he has not been accused of corruption directly, the PM’s critics say he heads a government which is entrenched in corruption.

The Congress party is now led by its vice president, Rahul Gandhi, a fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi clan and from the first family of Indian politics.

His great-grandfather was the first prime minister of independent India, followed by grandmother Indira, assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, and then her son – Rahul’s father – Rajiv, who took over as prime minister and was assassinated by a  Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.

Mr Gandhi is pitted against the right-wing  Bharatiya Janata Party nominee, Narendra Modi, who has won four successive terms as chief minister of Gujarat and is seen by many as a polarising figure in Indian politics.

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