India election 2019: Trinamool Congress uses star power to lead the way for women
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. Everyday, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world's largest democracy.
Mamata Banerjee leads the way with women
What is happening?
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has released her party's list of candidates and 41% are women. And it's a starry list – it has two top regional actresses, Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan. Moon Moon Sen, a former actress who won in the 2014 election, will also be contesting again.
The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has been in power in the state since 2011, will be putting up women in 17 of its 41 seats.
"I am so happy. This is a proud moment for us," Ms Banerjee said, challenging other parties to do the same. The announcement comes days after another regional party said a third of its seats would be reserved for women.
The firebrand leader from eastern India is seen as a crucial opponent in the alliance against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has often butted heads with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his party tries to make inroads into West Bengal with a mix of development promises and sectarian rhetoric.
Tuesday's announcement was no different.
"Modi babu must go from power, we want to see him out… I will fight along with all of our friends to defeat Modi," she said.
Why does it matter?
Female voter turnout has been steadily going up over the last few years, but the fact of the matter is, while seats in India's village councils have been reserved for women since the early 1990s, parliament is still dominated by men.
As women become a more powerful voting block, parties are realising they need to actively target them.
Previously, politicians have wooed women with costly schemes and concessions – some have given free cooking gas to poor households, while others have imposed prohibition as a cure for alcoholism among men.
But it is becoming more and more clear that a party doesn't just need to woo women voters, it needs to represent them.
Priyanka Gandhi has finally debuted on Twitter, sending two tweets just hours after she made her first speech as a fully-fledged politician in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat.
"In the simple dignity of Sabarmati, the truth lives on," her first tweet read, followed moments later by another – a photo, and a Mahatma Gandhi.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Mahatma Gandhi pic.twitter.com/bxh4cT3Y5O
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 12, 2019
End of Twitter post by @priyankagandhi
The calm nature of the Congress politician's tweet was in contrast to her fierier tone earlier in the day.
"Your vote is a weapon, your awakening is a weapon, your awareness is a weapon, so use it wisely because you are going to choose your future," she told a cheering crowd in Gujurat, in a speech which left many comparing her to her grandmother, the former prime minister.
Why does this matter?
A social media presence is key for any modern politician, as PM Modi's 46.3 million followers will tell you. Used well, it can garner you millions of votes. Used badly, it can destroy a career before it has even got started.
How Ms Gandhi will fare remains to be seen. However, it is likely her brother Rahul – the Congress leader who has found himself trending for both positive and negative reasons over the last few hours – will be on hand to give her some advice.
Hardik Patel was on stage with Rahul Gandhi
Hardik Patel, the firebrand social activist who rose to fame challenging Prime Minister Modi in his home state of Gujarat, made his first public appearance with the opposition Congress party.
Mr Patel, who was on stage alongside Congress leaders in Gujarat, announced he was joining Rahul Gandhi's party on Sunday.
His 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.
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.
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.
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.
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))