India's general elections begin

April 19, 2004 at 5:18 PM

NEW DELHI, April 19 (UPI) -- India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, riding a wave of explosive economic growth, expects to win in the general elections that will take three weeks to complete.

Voting began Tuesday in the world's largest democracy with an electorate of over 600 million and a population of more than 1 billion.

The staggered, five-stage system of voting in constituencies ranging from dizzying Himalayan heights to blazing deserts to the remotest islands and villages will go on through May 10.

The ruling BJP or the arty is optimistic of victory because of the impressive economic growth, the Voice of America reported.

Voters will pick 543 members to India's lower house of parliament.

The elections pit the National Democratic Alliance, a multi-party coalition led by the BJP, against the Congress Party and its allies. The BJP is headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The BJP dropped its hard-line Hindu-nationalist agenda, and instead has run an aggressive campaign focusing on a growing economy and recent peace moves with neighboring Pakistan.

Using the slogan "India Shining," the party promises to turn India into an economic powerhouse.

The opposition Congress Party, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, says the BJP rule has failed because millions continue to live in poverty.

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