Twenty-two states and union territories (UTs), including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, will have Lok Sabha election in a single phase, while it will be spread across seven phases in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, the Election Commission announced on Sunday. Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will have election in two phases, while Assam and Chhattisgarh will have three-phase polling.
Four states -- Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha -- will have elections in four phases.
Jammu and Kashmir, where the poll panel decided not to have assembly elections simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls, will have five-phase voting. There is no state where elections will be conducted in six phases.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the poll panel has decided to take up polling in Left Wing Extremism-affected states in one go.
"Every thing depends on movement of security forces. Phases have been accordingly decided," he said when asked as to why Odisha was having four phases instead of one.
During phase one of poll on April 11, elections will be held in 91 constituencies spread across 20 states. In phase two, polling will be held on April 18 in 97 seats spread across 13 states. On April 23 when polls are held in phase three, voters in 115 constituencies in 14 states will exercise their franchise. In phase four, 71 seats in nine states will go for voting on April 29.
In phase five, six and seven to be held on May 6, May 12 and May 19 respectively, 51 seats in seven states, 59 seats also in seven states, and another 59 seats in eight states will go for polling.
Since many on social media questioned why the Election Commission schedule talks of eight seats in J&K even though it has six, Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa clarified on Twitter that because Anantnag constituency is included in three phases.
Among other restrictions, the model code bars the government from announcing any policy move that may impact voters' decision. The EC said the 'voter verifiable paper audit trail' (VVPAT) will be used in all polling stations this time. Ten lakhs polling stations would be set up this time as against about nine lakhs in 2014. EVMs and postal ballots will carry pictures of candidates.
In 2014, the BJP had won 282 seats handing a crushing defeat to the 10-year-rule of the United Progressive Alliance led by Congress.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek to retain power, the opposition is seeking to put up a spirited fight to defeat the ruling BJP.
"Best wishes to the Election Commission, all those officials and security personnel who will be on the field, across the length and breadth of India assuring smooth elections. India is very proud of the EC for assiduously organising elections for several years," Modi tweeted.
In the press briefing, Arora said all political advertisements on social media will need pre-certification and the candidates will have to give details of their social media accounts to the EC.
The CEC said 91 constituencies will go for polls in first phase, 97 in second phase, 115 in third phase, 71 in fourth, 51 in fifth, 59 in sixth and 59 in the seventh phase.
The election will pit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance against mostly different opposition groupings in various states, including of Congress, Left and regional forces who are continuing to work out a grand alliance to minimise a division of votes against the BJP.
The BJP has worked out a seat-sharing formula with some new allies and several old partners, by even making concessions in states such as Bihar, which has 40 seats. However, opposition parties are yet to do so in several states.
While the NDA hopes to make history by coming back to power for a second full term, the Opposition wants to unseat the Modi dispensation by raising questions on its performance on a host of issues, including economic growth, unemployment, corruption and social harmony.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee had led the NDA to back-to-back wins in 1998 and 1999 general elections but he was at the helm for only one full term.
After losing three state polls last year, the BJP believes its Lok Sabha campaign is back on track following decisions such as 10 per cent quota for the general category poor, money transfer to farmers and a populist budget.
What has injected further confidence into the NDA fold is the fronting of the nationalist plank in the poll campaign after the Indian Air Force's strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan after the Pulwama terror attack, which killed 40 CRPF personnel.
The BJP has been citing 2016 surgical strikes on terror launch pads and the Balakot air strikes to assert that only a government headed by Modi will be capable of taking on Pakistan over terrorism.
Modi has launched an aggressive campaign accusing the opposition of coming together for the sole purpose of removing him when he is working to "remove poverty, corruption and terrorism".
He had led the NDA to a sweeping victory in 2014 as it won 336 seats, reducing the incumbent Congress to its lowest total of 44 seats.
In 2014, Lok Sabha polls were held in nine phases beginning April 7and ending May 9. Votes were counted on May 16.
(With PTI inputs)