India Polls: Modi urges record turnout on final election day

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's frontrunner for prime minister Narendra Modi urged voters to turn out in record numbers to throw the scandal-plagued Congress party from power as a bitter, marathon election campaign drew to a close.

Mr Modi, from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, made his final appeal to voters before the last round of voting on Monday in the world's biggest election expected to catapult the Hindu nationalist hardliner to power.

"People are tired of false promises, corruption and the same old tape-recorded messages ridden with dynastic references only to hide one's own failure," Mr Modi said in a blog late Saturday.

"They want a better tomorrow and NDA is the only alliance that can provide this change," he said, referring to a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition.

"I urge all those voting in the final phase to vote in record numbers, especially the youth," he said.

Politicians were barred from making speeches and taking to the hustings on Sunday, one day before 66 million people were eligible to cast their ballots in 41 seats in the final stage of voting.

Campaigning ended on Saturday in the five-week election that is likely to see Congress, headed by Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's most famous political dynasty, ousted from power after 10 years in charge.

Opinion polls show voters have turned against Congress over massive graft scandals, spiralling inflation and a sharp economic slowdown during its two terms running a left-leaning coalition government since 2004.

Counting and results are due to be announced on Friday.

Mr Modi, who has pledged development, investment and jobs to revive the struggling economy, sought to strike a note of unity in his last-ditch message to voters before the campaign ended.

"We can decide whether we want to fight each other or we want to unite to fight poverty? The former will lead us nowhere while the latter will take our nation to greater heights," he said in his blog.

The campaign has descended into bitter claims from Mr Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders that Mr Modi will spread divisions between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities if elected.

Although popular, Mr Modi is a deeply polarising figure due to his Hindu nationalist past and allegations that he failed to swiftly curb deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots.

The riots that swept Gujarat during his early years as chief minister of the prosperous western state, left at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims dead.

Mr Gandhi, whose lacklustre leadership of the Congress campaign has drawn criticism, on Saturday warned that Mr Modi "only wants to divide people, make people fight each other".

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