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Modi pledges US$1.44t on infrastructure in re-election bid

New Delhi

INDIAN Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pledged to spend US$1.44 trillion on infrastructure to boost the economy and raise living standards, in a bid to match its main rival's populist promises.

The BJP, which is seeking to retain power in elections starting April 11, released its manifesto in New Delhi on Monday, reiterating its pledge to double farmers' incomes by 2022, improve the GDP share from the manufacturing sector and double exports.

It will also scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which grants special concessions to the disputed state of Kashmir.

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India's 263 million farmers are a key voting bloc in the world's largest democracy. The main opposition Congress Party has promised to write off farm loans throughout the country.

To match it, BJP committed to invest 25 trillion rupees (S$487 billion) in rural development and said farmers will receive 6,000 rupees in income support.

"The essence of the manifesto is to deplete poverty to single digits in next five years and then eventually eliminate it," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. "This manifesto has been prepared with a strong nationalist vision."

It also promised to take its flagship programmes - providing toilets, electricity connections, houses, cooking gas, crop insurance and loans for small businesses - to more beneficiaries by allocating additional resources.

The BJP, which is leading in opinion polls, is offering giveaways to stave off a challenge from Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi.

Congress has promised in its manifesto to rid India of poverty by 2030 by providing income support to the poor, waiving farm loans and creating jobs.

"With this document we are committed to moving toward a new India," said Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is also the head of BJP's election manifesto committee. "We will work on improving India's ranking in ease of doing business. We will try to double exports."

The BJP is banking on the support of around 220 million Indians who have benefited directly from the government's flagship programmes, as well as a 750 billion rupees income support programme for small farmers and lower taxes for middle-class.

Mr Modi has been criticised by the opposition for not fulfilling his promise of creating 10 million jobs each year - a pledge that helped him win over India's youth in the 2014 election. The ruling party denies this charge.

The boost to infrastructure will also "lead to creation of a large number of jobs and livelihood opportunities," the manifesto reads, noting the government would target "untapped employment-generation potential of sectors such as defence and pharmaceuticals." BLOOMBERG