Two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, are crucial for Modi's BJP
Voters across swaths of southern India began queuing up early on Thursday in the second phase of a mammoth, staggered general election in which opposition parties are trying to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from winning a second term, Reuters reported.
More than 157 million of India's 900 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the second phase, which covers 95 parliamentary constituencies in 12 states including parts of restive Jammu and Kashmir. India's parliament has 545 members.
Votes will be counted on May 23 and the results are expected the same day.
The focus will be on the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where the main opposition Congress party and its allies need to win big if they hope to beat Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
"If the non-BJP parties perform well in these two states, then they would still be having a chance of forming a non-BJP government at the center," said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a think tank based in the capital, New Delhi.
Modi has put national security at the center of his campaign to secure a second five-year term.
While seen as the favorite, he faces an increasingly tough challenge from opposition Congress party's leader Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi has gone on a relentless attack against the economic record of Modi's BJP.
Modi and the right-wing BJP swept to power in a 2014 landslide with their promise of "achhe din" ("good days"), Agence France-Presse reported.
He has simplified the tax code and made doing business easier.
But despite growth of about seven percent a year, Asia's third-biggest economy has not provided enough jobs for the roughly one million Indians entering the labor market each month.
And in rural areas, thousands of indebted farmers have killed themselves in recent years.
Modi sought to counter critics of his campaign in a television interview this week when he said: "If farmers die, then it is an election issue, but when soldiers die then it is not an election issue? How can that be?"
Gandhi fired back in an interview with The Hindu daily, published Thursday, saying Modi's party had sought to "divert the narrative of this election by making national security their key election narrative".
"The fact is that the biggest national security issue is unemployment," he said.
Gandhi, seeking to become the fourth member of his family to take the prime minister's office, has pledged to end abject poverty by 2030 and give cash transfers to 50 million families.
The BJP has promised a $1.4-trillion infrastructure blitz to create jobs.
There have been repeated allegations of vote-buying in the run-up to the poll, and voting in a constituency in the southern state of Tamil Nadu has been canceled altogether after $1.5 million in cash was seized by authorities.
The Election Commission said that authorities had recovered 2 billion rupees ($29 million) from leaders, workers and supporters of various political parties in the state in the past month. They suspect the money is for buying votes.