Millions vote in Indian state as Modi seeks win

Millions of Indians voted on Monday in the final stage of Gujarat state elections with Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi seeking a clear victory to bolster his prime ministerial ambitions in 2014.

Long queues formed at polling stations with turnout nearly matching the 70 percent recorded in the first round of voting last week in Gujarat, one of India's fastest-developing states.

Modi, who swept to victory in the previous two state elections, is looking to secure another majority for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and strengthen his national status, stained by religious riots in the state in 2002.

"It's a very peaceful election," Modi said after casting his vote in the state's largest commercial city Ahmedabad. "It will be a historic (election) because it has been contested on the issue of good governance and development."

Though Modi has never declared his ambition to be prime minister, he is widely thought to be angling to lead the BJP into national elections due in 2014.

Modi's links to some of the worst sectarian violence in post-independence India make him a hate-figure for many Muslims and secularists.

He is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye to the 2002 unrest, during which as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in an orgy of violence that saw victims set alight or hacked to death in the streets.

He denies any wrongdoing.

"We have noted a huge turnout in the final phase of election. Over 10 million people have voted today," a state election officer in Ahmedabad told AFP.

Modi's main rival in Gujarat is the left-leaning Congress party, which heads the federal coalition government and is dominated by the Gandhi dynasty which has run India for most of its post-independence history.

If Modi wins the state polls with a big majority, he could project himself as a prime ministerial candidate -- resulting in a potential showdown with Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi family, in the 2014 elections, analysts say.

Results from the Gujarat elections are expected on December 20.

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