India’s prime minister Narendra Modi embarked on a campaign blitz with three huge rallies where he declared voters would reward his decision to test new weapons and bomb Pakistan with a thumping election victory.
The Hindu nationalist leader addressed tens of thousands of supporters in three northern cities in his first official campaign events since the announcement of the election earlier this month.
Modi, 68, hit the hustings a day after India destroyed a low-orbiting satellite using a ballistic missile — a military feat only equalled by China, Russia and the United States.
That came a month after Indian warplanes bombed Pakistani territory for the first time in decades, drastically escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed foes.
Modi, whose economic record has come under steady attack from a resurgent opposition, said these decisions proved his mettle as a strong leader.
“For the first time, this country has seen a decisive government which knows how to turn its words into action,” he told supporters in Meerut, northeast of the capital Delhi.
“India’s 1.3 billion people have already made up their minds. Once again, a Modi government is going to be formed in this country.”
He picked up on the theme again in two separate rallies, pointing to last month’s “surgical strikes” on Pakistan and India’s successful missile test as evidence of his government’s ability to defend the country.
“(Be it) land, sky or space, my government has shown courage to conduct surgical strikes in all spheres,” he said.
The main opposition Congress party and its leader, Rahul Gandhi, have accused the prime minister of stoking nationalist fervour to curry votes.
Indians will start voting April 11 in the world’s largest election, a nearly six-week affair involving 900 million voters and one million polling booths.
Gandhi has relentlessly attacked Modi for failing to fulfil his 2014 election promises, pointing to rising unemployment and farmer suicides as evidence of his failures.
The Congress leader has offered 50 million of India’s poorest families — an estimated 250 million people — a guaranteed basic income of $1000 a year, if his party wins power on May 23.