NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian election frontrunner Narendra Modi, the vegetarian Hindu nationalist tipped to be the next prime minister, warned Thursday the country's expanding meat industry will lead to its "ruin".
With the campaign heading into its final days before the marathon nine-stage vote begins Monday, Modi assailed the meat industry and accused the Congress-led government of pursuing a "pink revolution", referring to the colour of meat.
"The pink revolution is a programme to ruin the country," Modi told his supporters at a rally in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
India's booming middle class with rising disposable incomes is driving the demand for meat in a country which traditionally has had a large vegetarian population.
With chicken a favourite, domestic poultry sales are worth an estimated $9 billion (S$11.37 billion) and growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent.
India is also one of the world's largest meat exporters.
Cows are considered sacred by Hindus, who form the majority religion in India, but Modi spoke out against all forms of animal slaughter.
"Slaughter houses are getting subsidies to export meat (and) a poor farmer is now slaying his animals," he said in televised comments from the city of Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of the national capital New Delhi.
"Instead of focusing on increasing agricultural produce, the government is hellbent on ruining the animal wealth of the nation," he said.
Modi, chief minister of prosperous western Gujarat state, has been campaigning on a platform of reviving the nation's faltering economy and creating jobs.
His statements against animal slaughter could rattle the country's Muslims, who are big meat eaters and account for some 13 per cent of the population.
Many Muslims view Modi with suspicion because of his hardline Hindu nationalist rhetoric and deadly anti-Muslim riots that swept his state 12 years ago just after he took over as chief minister.
Critics accuse him of failing to stem the carnage in which at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were hacked, burnt and shot to death, but Modi denies any wrongdoing.
Opinion polls suggest Modi, a popular but divisive figure, will lead the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory and oust the scandal-tainted ruling Congress party.
The elections wrap up on May 12 with results due four days later.