VARANASI: Narendra Modi received a hero’s welcome from thousands of orange-clad supporters as he launched his election campaign yesterday in the religious city of Varanasi, a show of strength for the Hindu nationalist tipped to be prime minister.
India is halfway through the world’s largest-ever election, in which 815 million people are eligible to vote over 10 stages. Modi will stand for the parliamentary seat of the Ganges river city of Varanasi on May 12, four days before results are due.
One of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and a centre for Hindus who come to wash away their sins in the sacred river, Varanasi should give Modi an easy win.
But with a sizeable Muslim community and multiple Hindu castes, the city and surrounding region will test whether he can rise above divisions that have held back his party in the past.
In a nod to that challenge, and to blunt criticism that his politics favours only upper-caste Hindus, Modi made conciliatory comments towards other religions and took a lower-caste Ganges boatman with him to register as a candidate.
“I am getting the privilege to serve this place, my heart says I have not come here, mother Ganges has called me,” said Modi, 63. Waving from an open-topped truck under a scorching sun, Modi was greeted by supporters dancing on rooftops and flapping flags as his cavalcade inched its way to an office where he filed to run for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Opinion polls show a coalition led by Modi’s BJP is likely to win enough of the 543 parliamentary seats to form the next government, but may need the support of other regional parties.