India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. The BBC brings you the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy.
The latest from the campaign trail
The man Congress hopes will upset Modi
What is happening?
Hardik Patel, the firebrand social activist who rose to fame challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state of Gujarat, is expected to make his first public appearance with the opposition Congress party later today.
He announced he was joining Rahul Gandhi’s party on Sunday.
The 25-year-old commerce graduate, who was not old enough to stand for election under India’s rules until this year, first rose to political fame as the face of massive caste protests which rocked Mr Modi’s state in 2015.
Patel is known for leading a movement demanding that the Patels – or the Patidar caste – be given better access to jobs and education through the quota system.
- Read more: How Mr Patel rose to challenge Modi
Why does this matter?
Mr Patel’s decision to join Congress, a dynastic party hoping to reinvent itself in this year’s election, is significant. The opposition hopes that he will be pivotal in swinging the vote in Gujarat, and for good reason.
His speeches and fiery oratory has attracted millions of supporters – many of whom have traditionally voted for Mr Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled Gujarat for more than two decades.
“He brings mass appeal for the Congress, which is something the party has desperately sought in the past 20 years,” said Ankur Jain, BBC Gujarati’s editor. “They’ve never had a leader as popular as him in Gujarat.”
Mr Patel has been seen as a strong threat to the BJP ever since 2015, when caste protests took off in Gujarat. “He became a prominent voice of dissent for shaking up the status quo in Gujarat,” our editor explained.
So, should the BJP be worried? Possibly. But remember they still managed to win the state election in 2017.
“It was a close call though as the party did lose seats – and Mr Patel is one of the main reasons behind that,” notes Ankur Jain.
News from other regions:
Sharad Pawar bows out
The chief of the Nationalist Congress Party has been very much the dominating force of politics in the western state of Maharashtra for decades.
So when the hugely influential politician said he would not be contesting the polls, shockwaves rippled through the country.
He is stepping aside in favour of a younger member of his family.
It will be interesting to see if this decision will impact the vote share of his party. Correspondents say that people will still be voting in his name, even though he is not the candidate.
Picture of the day
The campaign highlights so far
Last week saw… a lot of campaigning, even before the election schedule was unveiled on Sunday.
The announcement revealed there will be seven stages in total, starting in 20 states on 11 April – when 91 seats will be up for grabs – and ending on 19 May.
However, no one could have been unaware that an election was coming: the BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years – all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules.
- Want to know more about India’s 2019 election? Our correspondent Soutik Biswas has put together this handy explainer.
How do the Lok Sabha elections work?
India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.
Some 900 million voters – 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 – are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.
Who are the main players?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).
The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India’s strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.
This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.
The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.
The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.
Other regional players including Tamil Nadu’s DMK and AIADMK and Telangana’s TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.
When do I vote? The dates at a glance
11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)
18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)
23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)
29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)
6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)
12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)
19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)
23 May: Votes counted
Key: Date: State (number of seats being contested))
Find out exactly when you are voting by visiting the Election Commission of India’s website