Monday, January 26, 2015

Obama Visits India: Bilateral Cooperation Enhances

India and the United States on January 25 announced policy resolution on two key issues paving the way for a nuclear trade within the ambit of domestic laws and international obligations. The pact ends a six-year old stalemate in operationalizing the path-breaking civil nuclear agreement. The agreement was signed in New Delhi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting US President Barack Obama, who was the chief guest at the 2015 Republic Day parade. The 123 or civil nuclear deal was inked between India and the United States in October 2008. The pact, however, failed to deliver business for US companies.
Breakthrough in Civil Nuclear Deal
There was a “breakthrough” in civil nuclear agreement and both countries have sorted out the two pending issues. The American companies were concerned over the Indian nuclear liability laws that apply to the equipment suppliers in the event of an accident.  They have also demanded tracking of fuel supplied by the United States and other nations for the proposed nuclear power plants. While India will create an insurance pool to tackle the nuclear liability issue, on tracking it stated the matter will be dealt with under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
The civil nuclear deal was the centerpiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy.
Primary among these is the Defense Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) which not only intensifies military-to-military cooperation but also puts the spotlight on technology transfer and joint production, which India has been seeking with almost all its military partners.
The January 25 deal builds on the first plan that was signed in 2005 and provides the blueprint for India-US defense cooperation for the next 10 years. If the 2005 DTTI was historic for breaking the ice and laying the groundwork for an unprecedented partnership, the 2015 version marks a definite shift from a transactional relationship to a more organic one. In other words, if the past decade saw India sourcing an increasingly large proportion of its defense needs from the United States — by some estimates, India bought $10 billion worth of military hardware from the United States — the next decade will see the two countries sharing technology and co-producing weapons.
Delhi Declaration of Friendship
In addition to the major civil nuclear deal, both the Indian prime minister and the US president issued a 59-point statement encompassing the entire gamut of relationship, decided to renew the decade-old defense framework agreement for another
10 years and within it opened the defense technology and trade initiative. Both India and the United States issued a Delhi Declaration of Friendship — Shared Effort, Progress for All — in keeping with national principles and committing to hold regular summits with increased periodicity, elevate strategic dialogue, establish hotlines between the Indian prime minister and the US president and national security advisers, besides cooperating to develop joint ventures on strategically significant projects.
On clean energy, Washington is keen to work with New Delhi on the ambitious project of 100 gigawatt of solar energy by 2022 and air monitoring for megacities.
On Climate Change, the Indian prime minister said there was an urgent need to address the issue. He, however, said there was no pressure to work out an arrangement that the United States has with China.
Focus on Bilateral Ties
Noting that the multifaceted partnership between Washington and New Delhi is rooted in shared values of democracy and strong economic and people-to-people ties, the Indian prime minister and the US president elevated the bilateral relationship through their endorsement of a new India-US Delhi Declaration of Friendship, which builds on their September 30 Vision Statement by articulating tangible principles to guide ongoing efforts to advance mutual prosperity, a clean and healthy environment, greater economic cooperation, regional peace, security and stability for the larger benefit of humankind.
Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region
India and the United States also issued a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region to support regional economic integration by accelerated infrastructure connectivity, safeguard maritime security in ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.
Terrorism Menace
Prime Minister Modi President Obama stressed the need for joint efforts to disrupt terror entities, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), D Company and the Haqqani Network, and asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 attack to justice. Pakistan-based terror outfits that are not just a threat to India, but also spawn the jihadi network worldwide, are on the joint target list.
Obama said there should be no distinction between terror groups and pressed for countries to fulfill their commitment to wipe out terror safe havens.
Finally, the establishment of two hotlines — one between the two heads of Government and another between the two National Security Advisors — also speaks volumes about deepening cooperation between the two countries.
Agreement on Smart Cities
India and the United States signed three Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) on January 26 to give a boost to the Center's flagship “smart cities” scheme. Washington has agreed to partner with Indian in developing three smart cities in Allahabad, Ajmer, and Visakhapatnam.
Three MoUs were signed by the representatives of United States Trade and Development Agency and the respective Chief Secretaries of State Governments of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh in the presence of Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.
As per the agreemets, the United States will assist the cities in project planning, infrastructure development, feasibility studies and capacity building.
Business and Other Areas
The US president also announced a slew of initiatives that included $4 billion in loans from US banks, $2 billion in financing for renewable energy projects in India and $1 billion from the Exim Bank of the United States for project financing. Executive action to help Indian techies who currently have to undergo a painful and agonizing process of obtaining H-1B visas, to get legal permanent status (LPR), was also on the cards
India and the United States were moving in the right direction and there was untapped potential to be realized. Bilateral trade between the two countries had increased 60 per cent in the past couple of years to a record $100 billion, but India’s exports to the United States were still less than 2 per cent of all US imports, he said welcoming the Modi government’s reforms agenda for making it easier to do business in India.
This has been made possible, of course, by smartly balanced laws that fully comply with India’s World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations on intellectual property while incorporating protections that support public health. These laws have ensured a strict review of patent applications to avoid spuriously granting monopolies on drugs that are not actually new or innovative or whole new patents on minor changes to existing drugs. India has also focused on its WTO obligations rather than implementing excessive IP rules that undermine health, such as “data exclusivity” which, in the United States, makes clinical trial data private to create a whole additional monopoly separate from patents that prevents approval for generic drugs for periods of time.
Needless to say, the major multinational pharmaceutical companies oppose India’s finely balanced intellectual property system and are trying to topple it. What is less understandable is why the Obama administration would be backing their drive.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lok Sabha Elections 2014: Modi Becomes New Prime Minister of India

Narendra Modi, who was sworn-in India's 15th prime minister on May 26, brought an unprecedented victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), matched in its intensity and sweep only by the crushing defeat of the Congress in the 16th general elections. The BJP returns to power at the Centre after 10 years. Allies will also be part of the government, though the BJP is not dependent on any for numbers. BJP notched up a comfortable majority of 282 seats on its own and grossed 336 seats with allies in the 543-member house.
The BJP won a simple majority for the first time, only the second time a non-Congress party has done so. The BJP also became the first party since 1984 to get a majority on its own.
India has not had a single party rule since 1989. An Opposition party comes to power in such a manner for the second time, the earlier being the 1977 elections in the wake of Emergency.

BJP Ends Historic 30-Year Journey
It has been a roller coaster ride for BJP in the past 30 years with the saffron party in pole position on May 16 after having a measly two seats in 1984. In stark contrast, the fortunes reversed for the ruling Congress in an unprecedented way as it saw the party’s kitty dwindle from a record 415 during this period with results and trends indicating it may not get more than 50 seats.
The victory for the BJP in the saffron surge is also significant because India has not had a single party rule for 25 long years since 1989 during which coalition or minority governments have been in power.
A Modi wave has catapulted the BJP to power after 10 long years in the opposition with its tally set to more than double from 117 in an election which saw the BJP prime ministerial candidate secure a huge mandate. This is for the second time in Independent India that an Opposition party has come to power in such a manner, the earlier being the 1977 election that was held after the infamous Emergency era that brought the Janata Party to power.
The BJP came to power for the fourth time since it was founded in 1980 after the split in the Janata Party. Its first government in 1996 lasted for a merely 13 days and was dubbed 13-day wonder by the Congress.
In 1998, the next government of the BJP via the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) route lasted 13 months while in 1999 it again came to power leading the NDA in the backdrop of the Kargil conflict with the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee projecting it as a victory over Pakistan. The largest number of 182 seats was won by BJP in this election.
In fact, the BJP suffered its worst defeat in 1984 after the formation of the party. It could win only two seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in the wake of the sympathy wave for the Congress following assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Even Vajpayee was among several top opposition leaders who had lost in the election in which the BJP had secured one seat each from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat respectively. For the Congress, it is the lowest tally, which is less than the lowest ever of 114 in 1999.
Incidentally, both the record lows have come under the stewardship of Sonia Gandhi who has the distinction of being the longest serving president of the Grand Old Party.
Sonia has been at the helm of the Congress since 1998 after the party ousted Sitaram Kesari from the top post in the wake of the party losing the Lok Sabha election that year.
The results have come as a rude jolt for the Congress given the fact that it had been in power for 10 long years via the coalition route. Sonia started the first experiment of Congress sharing power at the Centre in May 2004 after remaining in political wilderness for eight long years.
While Narasimha Rao came to power in 1991 in the wake of assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, he ran a minority government for some time. Manmohan Singh, who was brought by Rao as his Finance Minister, ushered in the economic reforms that changed the face of India.
Incidentally, Modi, chief minister of Gujarat since 2001, used the development plank to the hilt by projecting the Gujarat Model that appeared to have struck a chord with people hit hard by rising prices and corruption and growing joblessness in the backdrop of a global slowdown.
Modi’s detractors raked up the 2002 Gujarat riots repeatedly accusing him of “zehar ki kheti” and polarisation of voters.
The election was also significant as the Left parties, fighting with their back to the wall, are set to register their lowest tally.
Modi Factor
Carefully scripted by his crack team, the ‘Modi vs Rest’ is a story that could have easily backfired. After the appointment of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, the question that arose was whether this poll would reverse the trend of several general polls since 1989. The election for the ninth Lok Sabha that saw Vishwanath Pratap Singh becoming Prime Minister was the last time when a single issue held sway over a considerable part of India. Though the polls in 1984 had a greater national footprint, being held as they were after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the issue of corruption in high place played out significantly in 1989. But thereafter, all polls became an aggregate of several local polls, at times aggregated either constituency by constituency in some extreme instances, or at state and sub-regional levels on most occasions.
Every single election since 1991 has not been influenced significantly by a single issue. If at all they were, barring in 2009 when the Congress was given an improved mandate following a string of pro-poor policies of the government, parliamentary polls were affected by a negative vote, like in 2004 when the BJP-led government was voted out. By the middle of 2013, however, it appeared that the emergence of Modi as the electoral mascot of BJP had led to a situation where endorsing or rejecting him would become the single-largest issue in this election. In the early stages, the election had not appeared to be becoming a virtual referendum on Modi, but by the end of the campaign this is what appears to be the case. It is therefore not wrong to say that this election can be described in one word — Modi.
The entire campaign of the BJP has been based on a singular principle and been pitted against the syncretic nature of India’s political culture. The issue of growth has been framed in the context of limitations of a coalition government. For a considerable period of time Modi has suggested that a growth oriented political system where rights are available in limited doses is a better bet than a messy democracy. When he began his march to Delhi in serious intent after the Assembly polls of December 2012, Modi’s first target was diluting the collective leadership of the BJP. Just as he reduced the party to one with only one individual being in charge, he has asked for a similar mandate from the electorate.
Tsunami in Uttar Pradesh
Of the crucial 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has won 71 on its own and its alliance partner Apna Dal has brought in another two. This reduces the Opposition parties in UP to seven seats altogether — shared by the Yadavs and Gandhis.
Not even Modi's close associate Amit Shah had perdicted such large-scale victory. He had given 50 to 55 seats to the BJP and predicted that the BSP will come second.
Both his prophecies were way off the mark as the BSP shockingly drew a blank. However, it is hard to claim that Uttar Pradesh took Modi to unmatched victory. Even without UP, Modi was well on his way to rule the country.
The UP verdict is, however, a clear paradigm shift. The tools which had been in use to assess and analyse political and sociological situations in the state have suddenly become ineffectual. At the moment, all analysis based on intricate caste and sub-caste calculations, community and regional variations have been unable to adequately explain the results.
Even at the height of the Ram Mandir movement, the BJP had managed to win 54 seats and account for 33 percent of the vote share.
In 2014, without any ostensible external factor, the BJP has won 71+2 seats and its vote share is 42.3 percent. This decisive vote for Modi is clearly a positive vote for change. It is the yearning of the common people for respite from their daily drudgery of power failures, potholed roads, corruption seeping the system, scams and the general feeling of despondency that has been plaguing the governments both at the national and the state level.
Still, it is not for a party like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)  that promised a new kind of transparent polity. Even its convener Arvind Kejriwal failed to win. More surprisingly, months of hard work of Kumar Vishwas in Amethi did not get him even the second slot.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) managed to win five family seats, of which Mulayam Singh Yadav would have to forgo one, leaving the party with only four. This puts a big question mark on the Akhilesh Yadav-led government in the state. Six ministers, 13 MLAs and even the Vidhan Sabha Speaker have bitten the dust. But, the chief minister would have to tread carefully to contain the damage as BJP Jhansi MP Uma Bharti has already hinted at 40 SP MLAs being in touch with the BJP.
Similarly, all seven UPA-II ministers from UP have not just lost but (except one) failed to save their deposits. The other significant aspect is that the BJP has won all 17 reserved seats, indicating an important shift in the Dalit vote. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which saw itself emerging as a 'balance of power' after the elections is completely routed.
Of course, credit for the BJP's stellar performance in the State which sends the largest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha also goes in large measure to the party's in-charge of the State and Modi's confidant, Amit Shah, who created magic there with his organizational skills and deft exploitation of the people’s anger with the SP, the BSP and the Congress-led UPA. The win, incidentally, means that both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati are under siege, and the next Assembly election to the State could see a change as dramatic as the one we are witness to now.
Opponents Crushed in Bihar
The BJP-led NDA crushed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's party Janata Dal (United) and the RJD-Congress combine by winning 31 of the state's 40 seats. The Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal combine in the state won seven seats and the ruling JD (U) won only two. Nitish Kumar has resigned a day after his party suffered a drubbing in the general elections.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad's wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi was defeated by BJP candidate and former union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy in Saran by 44,000 votes, while their daughter Misa Bharti was defeated in Pataliputra by BJP's Ram Kirpal Yadav by 42,000 votes. RJD candidate Pappu Yadav defeated JD (U) President Sharad Yadav in Madhepura. Congress leader Mohammad Asrarul Haque won from Muslim-majority Kishanganj. Pappu Yadav's wife Ranjeet Ranjan of the Congress won from Supaul.
Spectacular Wins in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra
Riding on the “Gujarat pride” wave, Modi led his party to a spectacular victory in his home state of Gujarat, making a clean sweep of all 26 seats throwing on the wayside a former chief minister and three members of the outgoing Manmohan Singh cabinet.
Former Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, once a colleague of Modi in the state BJP, who before the election claimed he saw “coming of the third UPA ministry” and expected the Congress to win at least 16 seats in the state, was himself biting the dust at his Sabarkantha constituency in north Gujarat.
While Modi himself defeated All-India Congress Committee general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, a close confidant of the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, by a near-record margin of over 5.20 lakh votes in Vadodara, three ministers of state in the outgoing central cabinet, Dinsha Patel (Kheda), Bharatsinh Solanki (Anand) and Tushar Chaudhary (Bardoli) also failed to open the account for the Congress in the state.
In Rajasthan, the made a clean sweep in Rajasthan by winning all the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the desert state. The Congress, on the other hand, recorded its worst defeat in the state’s history. The Congress won 20 seats in 2009 and the party’s lowest tally was one in the post-Emergency 1977 elections.
Prominent Congress leaders who lost included union ministers Sachin Pilot (Ajmer), Girja Vyas (Chittorgarh), Bhanwar Jitendra Singh (Alwar) and Chandresh Kumari (Jodhpur), and party leaders Namonarain Meena (Dausa) and former India cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin (Tonk-Sawai Madhopur).
In Maharashtra, Modi wave has swept away the ruling Congress-NCP coalition. Of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the five-party alliance led by the BJP has won 41 seats.
Among the stalwarts of the ruling front who bit the dust today include union ministers Sushilkumar Shinde, Praful Patel and Milind Deora. Other prominent losers include Chhagan Bhujbal and Padamsinh Patil of the NCP and Priya Dutt and Sanjay Nirupam from the Congress.
Controversial leader Ashok Chavan of the Congress contesting from Nanded and NCP boss Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule contesting from Baramati are just two prominent faces to win from the ruling front. Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has turned out to be a total flop in the current Lok Sabha elections.
AIADMK Gets Third Place
Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK rode on a Jayalalithaa wave to gobble up 37 of the state's 39 Lok Sabha seats to become one of the largest parties in the 2014 elections. The wave was such that there will be no Congress or DMK representative from the state in the Lok Sabha for the next five years as things stand now.
Many of the prominent candidates of these two parties as well as from others crashed to defeat. They included DMK's A Raja, Dayanidhi Maran, TKS Elangovan, T.R. Baalu and Congress' Karti P.Chidambaram, son of Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, EVKS Elangovan and others.
MDMK's candidates including its leader Vaiko, candidates from the two communist parties and AAP also lost. However, PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss contesting from Dharmapuri and BJP's Pon Radhakrishan from Kanyakumari were the two victorious survivors. Both parties are in alliance.
Mamata Magic Worked in West Bengal
The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee swept West Bengal by winning 34 of the 42 seats in the elections. The BJP, which had no political base in the state, won two seats.
The Congress retained four of the six seats, but the CPM and other Left Front parties put up the worst show by winning only two seats against the 15 it had won in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Reasons Behind Congress Debacle
The Congress got a crushing defeat in all the seven Lok Sabha seats primarily because of anti-incumbency at the Center coupled with the shifting of its vote bank toward the newbie AAP. Also, there is a feeling among a large section of people that the Congress MPs in the city were not easily accessible to the common people.
Many in the party feel that the Congress was defeated as its candidates did not go for aggressive campaigning. What is bothering the Congress leadership the most is the fact that it has suffered defeat in all the 70 Assembly segments, which fall under the purview of the seven Lok Sabha seats.
The downslide of the Congress in Delhi began in the December 2013 Assembly elections when the party could log its victory in only eight of the 70-member Assembly. The party, which had won all the seven seats in the previous Lok Sabha elections, were pushed to the third position in these Lok Sabha elections. Even the one-year-old AAP, which got an electrifying victory in the Assembly elections, stood second in the parliamentary poll.
It is said if the votes polled by the AAP were added to the tally of the Congress candidates, all of them would have easily made it to the Lok Sabha.“Delhiites were fed up with the scams which hogged the newspaper headlines every day. More to it, middle and lower middle class had to face high inflation in all essential commodities. That is why people voted for a change. Because of polarization, Muslims voted in a large numbers for the AAP. That is another factor which led to Congress defeat.
The 2014 elections have seen the incumbent United Progressive Alliance crash to an ignominious defeat with the Congress party, already on a downward spiral in several elections, now humiliatingly reduced to a double-digit figure in Parliament, its worst electoral tally since Independence. An indefensibly uninspiring campaign led by Rahul Gandhi failed to rally a young and impatient electorate. The BJP’s landslide victory, almost entirely attributable to the sweeping effect of the Modi wave across India, reflects the intensity of the desire for more effective governance. The rising public anger as a result of the UPA’s policy paralysis, stalled economic growth and worst of all, the series of corruption scandals, created a hunger for change especially among young Indians who see Modi as a leader symbolizing their expectations of fast economic growth unshackled from red tape and corruption.
In the era of coalition politics, no one saw the possibility of the BJP getting a clear mandate. The UPA always blamed coalition compulsions whenever it was accused of making any compromise with national interests. Now that the people have given a free hand to Modi, they ought to have huge expectations of him. It is time for Modi to deliver.

Record High for BJP
* Modi becomes new prime minister of India
*  BJP comes to power for the fourth time since its foundation in 1980 after the split in the Janata Party. Its first government in 1996 lasted 13 days
*  In 1998, the next BJP govt via NDA route lasted 13 months. In 1999, it again came to power leading NDA in the backdrop of Kargil war
*  BJP won the largest number of 182 seats in 1999
*  Party had its worst defeat in 1984 after its formation. It won only two seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination
* Atal Bihari Vajpayee was among several top opposition leaders who lost in 1984.

Congress Disaster
* It is the lowest tally for Cong, less than 114 in 1999
*  Both the record lows came under Sonia's stewardship. She is the longest serving president of the grand old party
*  Sonia Gandhi is at the helm of the Congress since 1998 after the party ousted Sitaram Kesari from the top post

*  She started the first experiment of sharing power at the Centre in May 2004 after remaining in political wilderness for eight years

Thursday, March 6, 2014

General Elections 2014: Country’s Biggest Ever Democratic Exercise Sees Five-Week Process

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath announced on March 5 that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will be held in five weeks. Voting for the 543-member Parliament is set to take place in nine phases until May 12 with counting scheduled four days later on May 16.

The 2014 polls will see 814 million adults eligible to vote, from the remote Himalayas in the north to India's tropical southern tip -- 100 million more than last time in 2009. The coming country’s biggest ever democratic exercise is expected to be fought largely on a platform of economic revival.

Long-Ardent Process

Elections will be conducted in phases on April 7, April 9, April 10, April 12, April 17, April 24, April 30, May 7 and May 12. The biggest phase will be on April 17 when 122 constituencies across 13 states go to the elections.

With the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, states in North India will go to the polls in separate yet single phases. While April 30 will be election day in Punjab, people in Haryana, Chandigarh and the National Capital of Delhi will vote on April 10. The hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will see voting on May 7.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the polls will be held in five phases on April 10 (Jammu), April 17 (Udhampur), April 24 (Anantnag), April 30 (Srinagar) and May 7 (Baramulla and Ladakh). It is believed that multi-phase polling was needed in Jammu and Kashmir due to security considerations. While Ladakh borders China and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the constituencies of Jammu and Baramulla abut PoK. Andhra Pradesh will have both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls as an undivided state and candidates elected will automatically become legislators of their respective states after Telangana comes into being on June 2.

Sampath said the nine-phase polling and the entire process -- from today to counting of votes on May 16 -- will be over in 72 days, three days less than the previous election. The number of voters will be almost 10 crore more than the 2009 Lok Sabha election. More than 2.3 crore enlisted voters are in the 18-19 age group.

Model Code of Conduct
The model code of conduct, a set of legally binding dos and don’ts, became operational with immediate effect with the announcement of the 16th Lok Sabha election schedule.

The model code of conduct bars the government from using public money to announce new schemes and projects, came into force following the announcement of the schedule for elections to the 16th Lok Sabha and simultaneous Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha.

The code bars ministers from combining official visits with electioneering work and bans the use of official machinery for electioneering and advertisements at the cost of the exchequer for partisan coverage of political news.

There can be no announcement of financial grants or promise of roads and water supply. Transfer of officials is banned.

Parties’ Efforts
The ruling Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are making efforts to woo host of smaller parties. Leaders of 11 regional parties have come together to form a Third Front against the Congress and BJP.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a spectacular debut in the recent Delhi assembly polls, will also contest the Lok Sabha polls. Opinion polls tip Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, as frontrunner to be the country's prime minister. However, opinion polls show Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when anti-Muslim riots left more than 1,000 dead in 2002, holds a large advantage over his bitter rival.

Highlights of the General Elections 2014
* The Election Commission is mandated to finish the election process before May 31
* 2014 Lok Sabha polls likely to be conducted in 9 phases
* Prime requisite of general polls is up to date electoral rolls, final rolls have been published
* People voting these general elections is 814 million; 10 crore more than 2009 elections
* Special camps will be set up across country to give electorate final chance to enroll
* There will be approx 9.3 lakh polling stations in country, an increase of 12 percent from last time
* EPIC distribution which was 82 percent last time has already reached 96 percent this time
* Model code of conduct comes into force with immediate effect
* Photo voter slips will be introduced these elections
* Use of money power matter of concern for poll panel; there will be sufficient checking mechanism
* First date of poll shall be on April 7, in 2 states
* Second election date is April 9, in 5 states
* Third election date: April 10, in 14 states
* Fourth election date: April 12, in 3 states
* Fifth election day: April 17, in 13 states and Union Territories
* Sixth election date: April 24, in 12 states
* Seventh election date: April 30, in 9 states
* Eighth election date: May 7, in 7 states
* Ninth election date: May 12, in 3 states
* Counting of general elections is in one day on May 16
* Polling in 543 constituencies to be covered in 9 election dates from April 7 to May 12

Naxal-Hit Areas
* All naxal-hit areas will be covered in a single day across India
* Andhra Pradesh: April 30 and  May 7
* Arunachal Pradesh: April 9
* Assam: April 7, 12, and 24
* Bihar: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7 and 12
* Chhattisgarh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Goa: April 17
* Gujarat: April 30
* Haryana: April 10
* Himachal Pradesh: May 7
* Jammu and Kashmir: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7
* Jharkhand: April 10, 17, and 24
* Karnataka: April 17
* Kerala: April 10
* Madhya Pradesh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Mahrashtra: April 24
* Manipur: April 9 and 17
* Meghalaya: April 9
* Mizoram: April 9
* Nagaland: April 9
* Odisha: April 10 and 17
* Punjab: April 30
* Rajasthan: April 17 and 24
* Sikkim: April 12

To sum up, it can be said that the 2014 general elections will be remembered not for the logistic difficulties and the sheer size and magnitude of the exercise. After ten years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), this election will see corruption and governance as major issues, along with livelihood and safety concerns. The BJP, by announcing Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, is seeking to turn this election into a vote for a strong, able government that does not waver in decision-making. Unmistakably, the UPA coalition, with many of the allies pulling in different directions, and some of the ministers caught in corruption cases, has come to be seen as weak and ineffectual.

The BJP holds an edge, if one were to go by the recent findings of various opinion surveys. The party's prime ministerial candidate, Modi, appears to be a firm favorite, as most young and first-time voters are said to be inclined to his brand of assertive governance and, therefore, to the BJP. However, the Congress is also hoping to garner the support of young voters on the strength of the party’s projection of Rahul Gandhi as its youth mascot.

What we can expect now is a renewed and frenzied attempt by the parties and their leaders to strike pre-poll alliances, finalize their candidates accordingly, and hit the ground running. There is no more time to lose. Every political party will be eyeing not just its traditional vote-bank but also the new voters, a substantial 10 crore in number, according to the poll panel. Poll pundits agree that the first-time voters hold the key, which is why parties are going overboard to woo them. In addition,  also tapping into the voter fatigue with the UPA would be the new entrant, the AAP, with its focus on institutionalized responses to ending corruption and delivering services.

Nevertheless, the 16th Lok Sabha elections will provide an opportunity for the people to discard the discredited and endorse the performers. However, Indian elections have been known to throw up surprises. Time will better tell the story.