India begins voting in election as Modi seeks historic third term

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India began voting on Friday in the world's largest election as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a historic third term in office on the back of growth, welfare, his personal popularity and Hindu nationalism.

The vote pits Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against an alliance of two dozen opposition parties which is challenging him with promises of increased affirmative action, more handouts and what they say is the need to save democratic institutions from Modi's dictatorial rule.

The gigantic exercise involving almost one billion voters will be spread over seven phases across the world's most populous country at the peak of summer. It ends on June 1 and votes will be counted on June 4.

On Friday, in the largest of the seven phases, 166 million voters in 102 constituencies across 21 states and territories will vote, including in Tamil Nadu in the south, Arunachal Pradesh on the Himalayan frontier with China, and the most populous Uttar Pradesh in the north.

Voters began lining up outside polling stations much before they opened at 7:00 am (0130 GMT) amid tight security, including senior citizens who needed help to reach the booths.

"Modi will come back to power, because apart from the religious push, his other work, including on safety and security is good," said Abdul Sattar, 32, a Muslim voter in Uttar Pradesh's Kairana, about 100 km from Delhi.

Mohammed Shabbir, a 60-year-old driver and father of eight, said unemployment was the main issue for him as none of his children have regular jobs.

Hindu nationalism is not an issue in this election, "because even the Hindus are affected by a lack of jobs", he said.

Surveys suggest BJP will easily win a majority even though voters have serious concerns about unemployment, inflation and rural distress in the world's fastest growing major economy, with the spotlight being on whether BJP can improve on its 2019 victory and by how much.

"In the next five years, we will take our nation into the top three economies of the world, launch a final and decisive assault against poverty, open up newer avenues of growth ... unveil the next generation of reforms, and take a number of pro-people decisions and actions," Modi wrote in the BJP’s election manifesto.

The manifesto and the theme of the BJP campaign is titled "Modi Ki Guarantee" or Modi’s guarantee to fulfill promises made to voters, underlining the unusual leader-centric, presidential-style pitch in a parliamentary system.

"I urge all those voting ... to exercise their franchise in record numbers," Modi posted on X, minutes before polling began.

"I particularly call upon the young and first time voters to vote in large numbers. After all, every vote counts and every voice matters," he said.

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