The busiest day of India's five-week parliamentary election is underway. The ruling Congress party faces a strong challenge from opposition Hindu nationalists.
More than 195 million people across a dozen states are eligible to cast ballots on Thursday - making it the largest single day of polling in the national vote.
The ruling Congress party's Gandhi family had tried on Wednesday to highlight the nation's secular foundations and to portray the Hindu nationalist frontrunner Narendra Modi as "dangerous."
Congress' senior figure Sonia Gandhi described Modi, who is the leading candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a "combination of religious fanaticism, power and money."
Sonia Gandhi's daughter, Priyanka, who is also contesting a seat, said Congress would "unite people and maintain the unity of the country." She claimed that Modi would spread divisions between India's majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.
Modi on Wednesday also rejected demands that he apologize for fatal anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat state in 2002 when he was chief minister.
He claimed his BJP party was headed for its "best" victory yet. He described Congress led by the Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul, 43, as "useless and corrupt."
Nuclear weapons 'defensive'
Modi also told ANI television during a lengthy interview that nuclear arms were defensive weapons that were "not to suppress anyone, but for our own protection."
He was referring to weapons stockpiled by India and its rival neighbor Pakistan.
Congress in its manifesto says it only wants a credible but minimum arsenal.
Results due mid-May
Surveys indicate that Modi's BJP and a coalition of opposition allies could grab over 50 percent of the constituencies across India, which in recent years has seen an economic downturn.
The election involving a potential 814 million voters began on April 7.
Results of India's five-week parliamentary election are due on May 16.
ipj/ccp (AFP, Reuters)