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India’s general election reaches a climax on Monday as opposition challenger Narendra Modi seeks a personal mandate in Varanasi, the holy city on the river Ganges, to govern by his modernized brand of Hindu nationalism. Modi is the first prime ministerial candidate to stand in the 3,000-year-old city where several religions mingle. Varanasi is an ancient centre of Buddhism but one in six voters is Muslim; Hindus believe that to die here brings salvation by escaping the cycle of reincarnation.

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