By Rhea Mogul

CNN — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is increasingly resorting to overtly Islamophobic language during his election campaign, critics and observers say, as he seeks a third straight term governing the world’s most populous nation.

As turnout in the polls so far shows a slight dip from five years ago, the popular leader – and overwhelming favorite – has embraced negative campaigning, they say, and received little pushback from civil society or election authorities.

Followers of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and some of its top figures – have long been accused of using inflammatory language to describe the country’s 200 million Muslims, but rarely Modi himself. However this election has brought a clear shift, critics say.

“What is unique about what we’ve seen recently, is that these statements are being uttered by the Prime Minister himself,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Not necessarily by surrogates – the Home Minister, or by the chief minister – or by other kind of party apparatchiks.”

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