The Congress, the main constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, is weighing the option of going for a General Election in November-December this year or in February next year. Though party President Sonia Gandhi has not taken a final call in this regard, many top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, favour the November-December schedule.
If the elections are held on schedule, India must complete polls by April 2008.
The biggest factor for Gandhi in determining the time-table for the election is inflation. As the inflation has shown signs of stabilising during the last few weeks, the party president and her managers are now contemplating holding early elections.
In all her meetings with the party general secretaries during the past one month, Gandhi has categorically asked her managers to prepare for the polls. In a letter in the party journal last month, Gandhi wrote: "The trust (vote) has been won but we cannot be complacent. To control inflation is our highest priority."
After presenting a please-all general Budget in February, the Congress was mainly waiting for the soaring rates of inflation to come down. Many of the party managers, including Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, had conveyed to Gandhi that the season's bumper harvest will help to curb prices.
Food prices are under control and international crude prices too have started to decline. These factors are giving renewed confidence to the Congress brass to go for an early election.
However, while a section of the party favours advancing the Lok Sabha elections to November or December, the allies, especially Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, is against the idea. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal-United is considered to be on a high and early elections will not help Yadav.
He has already conveyed this assessment to Gandhi and other Congress leaders. Lalu and other ministers like Ram Vilas Paswan, the Union steel and fertiliser minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief, are also looking for some more time to salvage their positions.
The two leaders also need time to forge an alliance in Bihar.
As part of its strategy to keep options open for fixing an advantageous election schedule, the Congress has also pushed back the dates for the next session of the 14th Lok Sabha. A combined monsoon and winter session of Parliament will be called between October 17 and November 21. According to the rule, the gap between two Parliament sessions cannot exceed six months. A normal monsoon session in July-August would have forced the government to advance the General Election even before December.
At least five states -- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Mizoram --will go for polls during November and December. Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are also due before November 20. However, in the wake of the current volatile situation arising out of the Amarnath land row, it is still unclear when the polls can take place in the state. A significant section of the Congress prefers to hold the General Election along with this series of assembly polls.
The final authority to decide on the election dates is the Election Commission and if it has its way, then the Lok Sabha polls would be held in April-May. However, if the government wants to advance the elections, the prime minister can dissolve the Lok Sabha and force the EC to advance the polls.
The EC will take into consideration the revision of voter list, dates of festivals and school and college exams and climatic conditions before it decides on the dates. It generally keeps a 45-day gap between the announcement of the schedule and the first phase of polling.