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A high-stakes battle for India's soul

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The world's largest democracy with a population of 1.3 billion is heading to the polls on April 11 in a marathon election that will continue for six weeks. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was voted into power five years ago with a comfortable majority, is seeking another term for his Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

While in 2014, Modi campaigned under the slogan "sabka saath, sabka vikas" (collective efforts, inclusive growth), this year the prime minister has made nationalism the pillar of his electoral strategy. The military escalation with Pakistan in February gave his campaign a significant boost and helped him launch what very much looks like a hyper-nationalist blitzkrieg.

Almost every electoral rally Modi leads, features pledges to defeat Pakistan, photographs of slain soldiers, and a barrage of militaristic rhetoric. Just days before polls were to open, the prime minister addressed first-time voters, saying: "Will you dedicate your vote to the brave men who conducted Balakot air strikes, to the CRPF men who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack?"

India's air strikes on the Balakot region in Pakistan in the aftermath a deadly attack on a military convoy in Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir managed to reverse the downward trend in Modi's popularity ratings. In January this year, his approval rating was hovering around 32 percent. This came after his party lost by-elections in three key states Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh held late last year.

After the Pulwama attack, however, Modi's rating shot up to 62 percent, as he rode on the "revenge" wave that swept through the country.

As India descended into anti-Pakistan sentiment, the many failures of the BJP government were........

© Al Jazeera