India Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday formally submitted his candidacy to recontest the parliamentary seat for the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in a general election he is widely expected to win.

The marathon six-week poll concludes next month, and the 73-year-old premier used the election formality as a campaign event that paid deference to the country’s majority faith.

Varanasi is the spiritual capital of Hinduism, where devotees from around India come to cremate deceased loved ones by the Ganges river, and the premier has represented the city since sweeping to power a decade ago.

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Hundreds of supporters had gathered outside a local government office to greet Modi when he arrived to lodge his nomination.

Footage showed the premier handing over his candidacy paperwork, flanked by a Hindu mystic.

“It’s our good fortune that Modi represents our constituency of Varanasi,” devout Hindu and farmer Jitendra Singh Kumar, 52, told AFP while waiting for the leader to emerge.

“He is like a God to people of Varanasi. He thinks about the country first, unlike other politicians.”

Modi, who has made acts of religious worship a central fixture of his premiership, had spent the morning visiting temples and offering prayers at the banks of the Ganges.

Tens of thousands of supporters had lined the streets of Varanasi to greet Modi as he arrived in the city on Monday atop a flatbed truck, waving to the crowd from atop a flatbed truck as loudspeakers blared devotional songs.

Many along the roadside waved saffron-coloured flags bearing the emblem of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), throwing marigold flowers at the procession as it passed by.

‘Not wanted’

Modi and the BJP are widely expected to win this year’s election, which is conducted over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging the democratic exercise in the world’s most populous country.

Varanasi is one of the last constituencies to vote on June 1, with counting and results expected three days later.

Since the vote began last month, Modi has made a number of strident comments against India’s 200-million-plus Muslim minority in an apparent effort to galvanise support.

He has used public speeches to refer to Muslims as “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”, prompting condemnation from opposition politicians and complaints to India’s election commission.

The ascent of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist politics despite India’s officially secular constitution has made the Muslims in the country increasingly anxious.

“We are made to feel as if we are not wanted in this country,” Shauqat Mohamed, who runs a tea shop in the city, told aFP.

“If the country’s premier speaks of us in disparaging terms, what else can we expect?” the 41-year-old added.

“We have to accept our fate and move on.”

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© Agence France-Presse