Lok Sabha elections to begin on 7 April; results on 16 May

India's mammoth general elections will start on 7 April, the Election Commission announced today. The voting will be staggered into nine phases ending 12 May; and the results will only be declared around six weeks later, on 16 May.

Lok SabhaMeanwhile, with exit polls banned under EC rules, the country will have to wait with bated breath to see who their new leaders will be.

The statistics of a general election in the world's most populous democracy would probably defy the Western imagination - 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.

With its ever-increasing population of young voters, this represents an increase of 100 million over the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

State elections in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha will be held simultaneously.

The general election pits the Bharatiya Janata Party's declared prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, against Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, who is the face of the ruling United Progressive Alliance government, which is seeking an unlikely third term in power.

The dark horse is Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Admi Party, going strong on is anti-corruption plank. Just over a year since it was formed, the AAP won enough seats in December's Delhi state elections to take power – which it relinquished in less than two months.

Third Front
No single party has won a parliamentary majority since 1989 and the electorate has delivered a fractured mandate in subsequent decades, turning regional leaders into game-changers.

A multi-headed group of regional parties is also eyeing power, a reflection of the growing clout of state-based leaders. This is widely seen as a fearful prospect – such governments cobbled together by politicians with their own agendas have seen the country sink to economic mess in the past.