April 11 (UPI) -- Voters in India began casting ballots Thursday in the world's largest democratic electoral process -- one that lasts for several weeks and involves nearly a billion eligible voters.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to win re-election despite a lackluster economy and a tilt away from secularism. Experts believe, however, Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party will lose seats in Parliament, but probably not enough to deny him another term. Raul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress, is seen as Modi's greatest threat.
The BJP will need to win at least 272 seats to assure it stays in power. Nearly 2,300 political parties and more than 8,000 candidates are participating in national and local races.
The voting in India will run until May 19 and results won't be released for India's 543 parliamentary districts until four days later. Even exit polling data, which will give some clue as to the results, won't be released until mid-May.
Modi has faced complaints in rural India districts amid rising unemployment in an economy that hasn't been able to produce enough jobs for the nation's large population. Others have credited Modi with fighting corruption and upgrading national security.
Support for Modi appeared to turn in February when India and longtime rival Pakistan hit each other with airstrikes and troops traded fire in the disputed Kashmir territory. Modi said the exchange showed India was tough on security, and experts pointed to the strikes as a revival for the prime minister and his party.
"Dismal showing at the state elections last year left little doubt that the BJP had lost a significant grip on government," Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, said. "Since India-Pakistan tensions flared in February, support for the BJP has rebounded."
Christian and Muslim minorities have worried about increasing violence by Hindu extremists during Modi's tenure. The prime minister has spoken out against extremist violence and has tried to distance himself from militant groups.