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Modi promises 'new India' as he launches election campaign

  • Published at 06:08 pm March 28th, 2019
Narendra Modi
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, centre, waves to his supporters before addressing an election campaign rally in Meerut in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, India, March 28, 2019 Reuters

A coalition led by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is widely expected to retain power in a staggered election beginning on April 11

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially launched his party's general election campaign on Thursday with a rally in India's most populous state, promising development with national security in seeking votes for another term.

A coalition led by Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to retain power in a staggered election beginning on April 11, especially given recent tension with old rival Pakistan.

"This country has seen governments that only made slogans, but for the first time, they are seeing a decisive government that knows how to demonstrate its resolve," Modi told the rally in the city of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh state, which has the most members of parliament of all states.

"Our vision is of a new India that will be in tune with its glorious past," he said to roars of approval from the crowd who waved BJP flags and chanted for another term for Modi.

The rally was held in a field flanking a main road, surrounded by farm land. Vendors sold BJP mugs, T-shirts and clocks.

The general election, the world's biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million eligible voters, will be held in phases ending on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

Tension with neighbouring Pakistan soared last month after a suicide bomb attack in the Indian part of the disputed Kashmir region killed 40 Indian paramilitary police. The bombing was claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group.

India retaliated with an air raid against a suspected militant camp in northern Pakistan.

In December, the main opposition Congress party defeated the BJP in three major rural states as a lack of jobs and weak farm prices dented Modi's popularity.

But pollsters say Modi's chances have improved significantly thanks to his tough stance on Pakistan.

At the rally, Modi repeatedly spoke about the Indian bombing of the suspected militant camp. He also referred to a test on Wednesday in which India shot down one of its own satellites in space, which he said made India a space power.

Modi also promised economic growth and a prosperous society for all.

Modi's main challenger is the opposition Congress party, which was for decades India's dominant political party.

One Modi supporter derided a recent Congress offer to hand out 87 a month to the poorest families if it was voted back into power.

"I know how the economy works," said chartered accountant Anupam Sharma. "GDP would be decimated."

Modi was due to address another rally in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, later on Thursday.

EC examining Modi address on anti-missile test

India's Election Commission said it had directed a committee of officers to examine Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of an anti-satellite test on Wednesday, after opposition leaders complained the move was aimed at scoring political points.

In a television address to the nation, Modi said an Indian missile had shot down an Indian satellite in space, making India only the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to have that capability.

Opposition leader Mamata Banerjee said she was lodging a complaint against Modi with the Election Commission for violating the electoral code of conduct.

"Today's announcement is yet another limitless drama and publicity-mongering by Modi desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election in April-May," Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state and a potential prime ministerial candidate, said on Twitter.

Randeep Singh Surjewala, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, called Modi's announcement a "gross violation of code of conduct."

The Election Commission said in a statement later that the matter had been brought to its notice. "The Commission has directed a Committee of Officers to examine the matter immediately in the light of Model Code of Conduct," it said, without elaborating.

India's general election begins on April 11.

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