(Reuters) - India will hold a general election between April 16 and May 13.
The main battle will be between the Congress-led coalition government and the main opposition bloc, headed by the mainstream Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Here are some interesting facts and figures:
Around 714 million people — more than twice the population of the United States — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
More than 800,000 polling stations will be set up for a five-phased vote over several weeks, watched over by 2.1 million security personnel.
Around 1.1 million electronic voting machines will be used across the nation. These were first introduced for a general election in 2004, when millions of illiterate voters pressed a button next to a symbol of the party of their choice.
Ballot boxes were also used — some were transported by elephants and camels to remote voters.
In 1996, before the introduction of electronic voting machines, 8,000 metric tonnes of paper were used to print ballots.
Around a quarter of the 543 lower house elected MPs had criminal cases pending against them in 2004. More than half of the cases were for serious offences including murder, rape and large-scale corruption.
Two more MPs can be appointed by the president to ensure the representation of India’s tiny Anglo-Indian community.
Anglo-Indians who stayed in India after independence, colloquially known as “Anglos,” trace part of their ancestry to European, mostly British, descent through the male line. Many are the progeny of British officials and soldiers who intermarried with Indians in the colonial era.
Parties can be recognised by their symbols. These range from the mainstream, such as an elephant, a hand, or a hammer, sickle and star, to the less predictable, such as a bicycle, a bow-and-arrow, a pair of spectacles, a telephone or a woman farmer carrying paddy on her head.
In 2004, the Election Commission published a list of acceptable symbols that can be used by minor parties. These included bangles, a cricketer, a coat hanger and a ceiling fan.
YOUNG & OLD
In a parliament populated largely by ageing MPs, there are many contenders for the oldest of them all. A 94-year-old took that prize in the 2004 elections. The youngest was 26.
In the world’s largest democracy, spare a thought for polling station No. 29 (Dharampur) in the remote Arunachal Pradesh state that borders China. It had just one voter in 2004.
The shortest government in Indian history was formed in 1996. It lasted 13 days.
Sources: Reuters, Election Commission website http://www.eci.gov.in, the Indian Express, www.india-elections.com, Social Watch India, "Anglo-Indians" by Blair R Williams