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Opposition chief in India growth vow as election begins


By Victor Mallet in Ahmedabad & James Crabtree in Mumbai

Narendra Modi has promised to revive Indian growth and encourage foreign investment on the first day of voting for the 800m Indians eligible to take part in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Mr Modi’s opposition Bharatiya Janata party is forecast to defeat the demoralised Congress party, which has been in power at the head of coalition governments for the past decade. Nine separate voting days will culminate in a count on May 16. Voters cast their ballot yesterday in seven of the 543 elected constituencies.

Despite pledging to increase foreign investment, the BJP yielded to its supporters among millions of small shopkeepers and excluded supermarkets and department stores from the list of sectors to which it wants to attract overseas capital.

“Barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI [foreign direct investment] will be allowed in sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialised expertise. BJP is committed to protecting the interest of small and medium retailers,” the party said in the manifesto it published on Monday.

Ficci, an industry group, welcomed the BJP’s openness to foreign investment but expressed “disappointment” at the decision on retail.

Backed by Indian and foreign investors and many expatriates, the Hindu nationalist BJP is seen as more business-friendly than the left-leaning Congress. The prospect of a Modi win has sent shares to record highs and strengthened the rupee. (FT)

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