Mr. Modi has sought to distance himself from religious politics. Facing off against Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi political clan, whose Congress party has governed India since 2004, Mr. Modi has positioned himself as a champion of economic development and no-nonsense government. He cites growth and industrialization under his leadership in Gujarat and says all of India will enjoy the same if he becomes premier.
"I am known to be a Hindu-nationalist leader," Mr. Modi said in one of his first speeches after becoming the prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. But "my real thought is toilets first, temples later."
Hindus make up 80% of India's population and Muslims 13%.
"Electricity in every home, toilets in every home, education for children, hospitals for the elderly. Brothers and sisters, can't we do this in our country?" Mr. Modi asked the rally. "We need to make this happen together."
For India's exasperated middle class, Mr. Modi's brawny style is a direct antidote to a Congress party some perceive as feckless. The BJP is expected to win big among urban professionals who believe Mr. Modi can imbue India with a new self-confidence and ambition that matches their own.
Mr. Modi is also the darling of Indian business. Indian stocks have been hitting highs as investors bet on a Modi victory.
Mechanics of India's Election
At the cost of roughly $2 a voter, India will deploy 10 million election officials, including temporary workers and army soldiers, at 930,000 polling stations. Ballots will be cast via 1.8 million electronic voting machines.
Given this scale, the election is spaced out over five weeks, with nine polling days through May 12. The long gaps allow paramilitary forces to be shifted from place to place to provide security at polling stations. The dates are also fixed around various local festivals and school schedules since public school teachers make up the bulk of election volunteers, a paid position.
Under India’s first-past-the-post parliamentary system, a party must control over half the 543 Lok Sabha seats to form a government on its own. No single party has managed to do that since 1984, so governing alliances must be formed between the six national and 47 state parties. States with larger populations thus wield a lot of power, chief among them Uttar Pradesh, which gets to send 80 representatives to the Lok Sabha. Coalitions led by the Congress Party and BJP have alternated power in the past two decades.
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