The world’s largest democratic elections are due to take place over the next two months.

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As many as 879 million Indians are expected to vote, using more than one million polling stations. They are so large and involve so many people that they have to be carried out in seven phases. Some 11 million election officials will be employed to make the process go according to plan – but it is a complex operation to ensure there are no irregularities. While dozens of parties are taking part, most support one of two leaders of the main parties.

India is nuclear armed

When India carried out its first nuclear weapons test in 1967, it joined a select group of countries which could threaten to wreak mass destruction on enemies at the launch of a missile. Despite never making any official statements about the size of its arsenal, the Federation of American Scientists has estimated India has between 130 and 140 warheads – enough to kill potentially tens of millions of people. Although none are thought to be currently deployed, India possesses the intercontinental ballistic missile technology to fire one up to 5,000 miles on its Agni-V rockets. In 1948, the UN mandated that the solution to the argument over the future of Kashmir should be solved with a referendum, but one has never been held. The two countries are separated not by an official border but by a “line of control” which regularly sees spats between the two sides. The territory is back at the centre of India’s politics after 40 soldiers were killed by a terrorist bomb attack which India says was assisted by Pakistan. India claimed it killed a large number of militants when it carried out reprisal air attacks over Pakistani territory, but Pakistan claimed there were virtually no casualties.

India is predicted to be the world’s third-biggest economy by 2030

India had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in 2018, according to the IMF. The nation had real growth rates of 7.3% – far outpacing the UK’s 1.3% – and this momentum is set to continue into 2019. Estimates from the IMF suggest India will overtake the UK as the world’s fifth-largest economy this year. From here, India is expected to match Germany in the late 2020s. Meanwhile, HSBC anticipates India will surpass Germany and Japan as the world’s third-largest economy by 2030 – leaving the country nipping at the heels of China and the US.

It is the world’s third-biggest polluter

Currently, only China and the US produce more carbon dioxide than India. But like China, it has seen the amount of CO2 it produces rise exponentially over the past few decades. Carbon emissions are anticipated to fall in Europe – but in India, despite growing investment in plentiful supplies of renewable energy, emissions by 2030 are anticipated to be up to 160% higher than levels were in 2012. A scientific study in 2017 found India was already overtaking China as the world’s largest emitter of sulphur dioxide. Both are the world’s two largest consumers of coal, and in the last two years, pollution in Delhi has been so bad that it forced schools across the city to shut. In some areas, air quality has been so poor that it is beyond the maximum PM2.5 reading of 999 – a level equal to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

India is in a space race

India claimed impact from the ground-launched missile would result in any debris from its own orbiting technology falling to earth – but several scientists, including those from NASA, have claimed the strike put other space equipment in grave danger. NASA said the blast created 300 pieces of debris that put the International Space Station and other satellites at risk. Experts said India’s move to create an anti-satellite weapon was prompted by China doing the same in 2007. India has had a space programme for years, sending a low-cost probe to Mars in 2014 and providing cheaper launch alternatives to Western space services. It plans its first manned space mission by 2022. Security expects said India’s move shows “space is being turned into a battlefront”.

It is the world’s second-most populous country

India’s population is up to 1.365 billion, according to UN estimates – nearly a fifth of the world’s people. Its population went up by 27 people a minute in 2018. While India’s rate of population growth is slowing down, it is expected to overtake China as the world’s most-populous nation in 2020, according to Population Pyramid, which uses UN data. As its population grows, the pressures that go along with looking after a large population will increase. Its people already live cheek by jowl in probably the most densely populated large country in the world – rivalling the Netherlands for the number of people living per square kilometre. As competition for land increases, the pressure on the environment and for food resources will rise.

It is a Commonwealth country and potential free trade partner

As a member of the Commonwealth, India has close ties to the UK, originating from when it was part of the British Empire. Narendra Modi became the first Indian premier in nine years to attend a Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London last year, when he met the Queen. Mr Modi pushed for an increase in the number of student visas issued to Indians to study at British universities. But a couple of months later, the UK attracted controversy by excluding India from a fast-track visa system for students from “low-risk” countries. In the past few years, the UK has seen India as an important potential partner in a post-Brexit world, and hoped for a trade deal. Commentators have warned it will require concessions on immigration.

Indian expats, including those in the UK, live around the globe

The nearly two million people of Indian origin who live in the UK are just a fraction of the 31 million who have made their home outside the subcontinent. While a large number of Indians provide essential labour for Gulf states, and help keep the world’s oil flowing, millions of others are highly economically important – taking the kinds of jobs that have wide-ranging impact around the world. Forbes says there are 106 billionaires from India – more than anywhere other than China, the US or Germany. Google, Microsoft, Mastercard and several FTSE companies have chief executives who were born in India. Currently, India has a much lower emigration rate than the rest of the world – 1%, compared with the world average of 3%. In 2015, one in 20 migrants around the world was from India, and Pew Research says this number is increasing.

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