VARANASI (India) • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was accompanied by top leaders of his ruling alliance and senior ministers in his Cabinet as he filed nomination papers yesterday to contest from the Varanasi parliamentary constituency in the country's general election.
Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, which includes several regional parties, came to power with a thumping majority in 2014 and is hoping to repeat its performance.
"For the first time in India, there is no anti-incumbency wave," Mr Modi told cheering, charged-up party workers before he filed his nomination.
Mr Modi had staged a show of strength on Thursday in the city of Varanasi, one of the most sacred places for India's majority Hindu population, as the country's 39-day staggered general election neared its mid-point.
Dotted with ancient temples and sitting on the banks of the Ganges river, Varanasi was one of two seats that Mr Modi fought and won at the last election in 2014.
He has so far chosen to represent Varanasi in Parliament and is not likely to pursue any other seat.
Rumours of the country's main opposition Indian National Congress party's Ms Priyanka Gandhi contesting against him were scotched on Thursday when the party announced local leader Ajai Rai as its candidate.
Ms Gandhi is Congress president Rahul Gandhi's sister.
An estimated 750,000 supporters lined the streets to greet Mr Modi on Thursday.
He then toured the city in a sport utility vehicle, standing to greet supporters through the sunroof as his security forces prevented the crowd from getting too close.
Mr Modi was accompanied on his roadshow by senior BJP leaders, including party president Amit Shah and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh, where Varanasi is located.
The northern state is India's most populous and has the largest number of MPs. In 2014, the BJP won 71 seats there out of 80.
India's election is being held over 39 days from April 11 to May 19, with votes due to be counted on May 23.
Varanasi will vote on the last day.
Mr Modi's supporters talked up his achievements in bringing clean water, sanitation and electricity to more of India.
"The city has become clean. There is electricity 24 hours now, and there is water," said Mr Shyam Narayan Naik, 55, who runs a textile shop.
"No other party will be able to win here," he added, in the city that was mostly shut on Thursday as Mr Modi's 5km-long roadshow passed by.
The city was decorated with BJP flags and saffron-coloured balloons. Sounds of drums and songs praising Mr Modi grew louder as the Prime Minister arrived.
Supporters wore "Namo Again" T-shirts or masks with Mr Modi's photograph, while others dressed as Hindu gods and goddesses.
"I think this time he's trying to send the signal that he's now far more confident, he doesn't need the Gujarat seat and therefore he's standing only from UP," said Dr Sudha Pai, referring to the other seat Mr Modi won and gave up in 2014. Dr Pai, a former political science professor at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, closely tracks politics in Uttar Pradesh.