AP PHOTOS: Indians vote in final phase of election

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India's marathon general election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is nearing the finish line.

The first of the election's seven staggered phases was held on April 11. On Sunday, the final phase takes place, with voting for the remaining 60 seats in the 543-member lower house of Parliament.

Vote counting is scheduled to start on Thursday. India has 900 million eligible voters.

The election has taken place in a charged atmosphere as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party seeks a second term by pushing policies that some say have increased religious tensions and undermined multiculturalism. The campaigning has been marred by accusations and insults, as well as the unprecedented use of social media.

Voting has largely been peaceful but for sporadic violence in the eastern state of West Bengal , where Modi's BJP is trying to wrest seats from Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party that is currently governing the state.

In a drastic and unprecedented action, India's Election Commission cut off campaigning early in West Bengal on Thursday after days of clashes in the final stretch of the election.

The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and the BJP. Modi promised big-ticket economic reforms, but with unemployment rising and farmers' distress aggravated by low crop prices, his party has adopted a nationalist pitch in trying to win votes from the country's majority Hindus.

In a bid to appear as a strong leader on national security, Modi has used the disputed region of Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of archrival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.

Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers' suicides. The main opposition Congress party has dubbed him a "national disaster."


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