Mar.5 - India's mammoth parliamentary election will start on April 7, the Election Commission announces, kicking off a race that will pit charismatic Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi against the unpopular Nehru-Gandhi family's ruling Congress party. Rough Cut. (No Reporter Narration).
EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL ROUGH CUT. (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: India's mammoth parliamentary election will start on April 7, the Election Commission announced on Wednesday (March 5), kicking off a race that will pit charismatic Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi against the unpopular Nehru-Gandhi family's ruling Congress party. India's Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath said 814 million people will be eligible to vote, a number larger than the population of Europe, making this the biggest election the world has ever seen. Results are due to be announced on May 16. Sampath announced the dates along with two Election Commissioners H.S. Brahma and S.N.A. Zaidi at the venue of the news conference in New Delhi. "The first day of poll shall be on 7th April 2014. This is held in two states and number of parliamentary constituencies covered will be six. The next date of poll is 9th April which will cover five states and seven parliamentary constituencies," said Sampath. Voting will be held in nine stages, staggered until May 12 to allow security forces to focus their strength during an exercise that, for decades after independence from Britain in 1947, has often been marred by violence and ballot-rigging. Sampath also said that the nine poll days will cover 543 constituencies and assembly constituencies. Running on his strong economic track record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi has emerged in opinion polls as the favourite, reflecting popular anger over corruption and a sense that the centre-left Congress government frittered away opportunities for rapid growth after coming to power in 2004. Exuding self-confidence, Modi has won the support of many middle-class Indians who even a year ago would not have voted for a man accused by critics of failing to stop, or even tacitly encouraging, a spasm of Hindu-Muslim bloodshed in Gujarat in 2002. Modi has denied any wrongdoing and the Supreme Court has said there is not enough evidence to pursue investigations. With half of India's population under 25, a record number of first-time voters is expected to participate in the election and many appear open to Modi's promises of job creation and efficient government. However, India's fragmented political landscape and first-past-the-post system for parliamentary seats makes results notoriously hard to predict, and that means a victory is by no means assured for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Recent polls show the BJP well short of a majority of the 543 lower house of parliament seats at stake, but widening its lead over the ruling Congress party, which has ruled for more than two-thirds of the 67 years since independence but may now be headed for its worst-ever electoral defeat.