Prime Minister Narendra Modi today put out a direct appeal to "my first-time voters", asking millennials to choose the BJP while referring to his key campaign themes. "I want to ask my first-time voters, can your first vote be dedicated to the soldiers who conducted the Balakot air strikes? Can your first vote be in the name of the martyrs who lost their lives in Pulwama," PM Modi said, addressing a rally in Maharashtra.
"Can the first vote of your life ensure that the poor get a home? Can your first vote ensure that water reaches the fields of farmers," PM Modi asked the crowds in Latur, a region notorious for water problems.
The sea of people waving BJP flags in the blazing sun cheered back.
Forty CRPF soldiers were killed when a Jaish terrorist blew himself up beside a convoy of the paramilitary force in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on February 14. India retaliated with air strikes in Pakistan's Balakot targeting a terror training camp.
On opposition complaints that the PM and other BJP leaders were using Pulwama and Balakot in their speeches, the Election Commission last month said the forces cannot be dragged into the poll campaign.
In today's speech, PM Modi again referred to the February air strike and said: "Eliminating terrorists in their homes is the policy of new India". He also pitched the Congress as the party responsible for the birth of Pakistan.
"Pakistan would not have born in 1947 had Congress leaders acted wisely in the pre-Independence era," PM Modi said, adding that the Congress manifesto speaks the same language as that of Pakistan.
The opposition has accused the Modi government of openly using the armed forces' successes to weave a narrative that only the BJP cared about the nation, while its opponents were "anti-national", a view that veteran BJP leader LK Advani said the party never had. "We have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as anti-national," Mr Advani had said in a post on his website last week.
At the rally, PM Modi said people who have just turned 18 must have, at some point in their lives, benefited from the contributions of the society. "You are 18 now and you must give your vote for the country, for a strong government, to make the country stronger," PM Modi said. Those who were 14 or older but less than 18 years in the last national elections in 2014, when the BJP came to power and PM Modi took charge, would be 18 now and eligible to vote.
The Prime Minister said every vote cast for the BJP would "come directly to me".
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who spent a considerable part of the last five years attacking PM Modi and the BJP, was also at the rally. PM Modi referred to Mr Thackeray as his "younger brother" and praised his father and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.