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India PM Modi files his nomination to run for a third term in general election

VARANASI, India (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi on Tuesday surrounded by his party leaders and supporters as he formally filed paperwork to run in an ongoing election that is essentially a referendum on his decade in power.

The 73-year-old leader hopes to retain his seat in Varanasi, the constituency from where he ran and won, first in 2014 and then again in 2019.

India’s gigantic, six-week-long general election began in April, with voting set to go on until June 1 before votes are counted on June 4. Nearly 970 million people are eligible to vote, making this the world’s largest democratic election.

Most polls show Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are leading in the race for seats in the lower house of parliament over their main challenger, a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties. The alliance has not yet announced its candidate for prime minister.

The filing of nomination papers is a procedural step that will allow Modi to contest the election. Candidates register their nominations in phases based on when the constituency votes, with Varanasi set to vote on June 1.

Modi is considered a champion of the country’s Hindu majority, who make up 80% of India’s 1.4 billion population. He has overseen rapid economic growth during his 10 years in power and his supporters credit him with improving India’s global standing.

But critics say he’s also undermined India’s democracy and its status as a secular nation with attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media. And his political opponents have raised questions over his government’s economic