By Subrat Patnaik
MEERUT, India (Reuters) – 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 6,000 rupees ($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.
(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in MEERUT; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)