Indian PM Modi files election candidacy in Hindu holy city

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Cheering crowds greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday as he submitted his candidacy for a Hindu holy city’s parliamentary seat in a general election his party is strongly favored to win.

Modi remains roundly popular in India, in large part due to his cultivated image as an aggressive champion of the country’s majority faith.

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of Hinduism, where devotees from around India come to cremate deceased loved ones by the Ganges river, and the premier has represented the city since sweeping to power a decade ago.

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“I swear on God... I will have faith and allegiance to India’s constitution,” Modi said before handing over the paperwork to an election registrar, flanked by a Hindu mystic dressed in a loincloth.

Hundreds of supporters had gathered to applaud Modi outside the local government office where he lodged his nomination, at the end of a two-day campaign stop packed with numerous public displays of worship.

“It’s our good fortune that Modi represents our constituency of Varanasi,” devout Hindu Jitendra Singh Kumar, a 52-year-old farmer, told AFP while waiting to catch a glimpse of the leader.

“He is like a God to people of Varanasi. He thinks about the country first, unlike other politicians.”

Modi waved to the gathered crowd after emerging from the office before leaving with his entourage, made up of senior figures from his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The 73-year-old Modi, who has made acts of religious devotion a fixture of his premiership, had spent the morning visiting temples and offering prayers at the banks of the Ganges.

Tens of thousands of supporters had lined the streets of Varanasi to greet Modi as he arrived in the city on Monday, waving to the crowd from atop a flatbed truck as loudspeakers blared devotional songs.

Many along the roadside waved saffron-colored flags bearing the lotus flower emblem of the BJP, throwing marigold flowers at the procession as it passed by.

‘Not wanted in this country’

Modi and the BJP are widely expected to win this year’s election, which is conducted over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging the democratic exercise in the world’s most populous country.

Varanasi is one of the last constituencies to vote on June 1, with counting and results expected three days later.

Since the vote began last month, Modi has made a number of strident comments against India’s 200-million-plus Muslim minority in an apparent effort to galvanize support.

In public speeches he has referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”, prompting condemnation from opposition politicians and complaints to India’s election commission.

The ascent of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist politics despite India’s officially secular constitution has made Muslims in the country increasingly anxious.

“We are made to feel as if we are not wanted in this country,” Shauqat Mohamed, who runs a tea shop in the city, told AFP.

“If the country’s premier speaks of us in disparaging terms, what else can we expect?” the 41-year-old added.

“We have to accept our fate and move on.”

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