India's Modi condemns Sri Lanka attacks, says he can defeat the 'terrorists'

FILE PHOTO - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he speaks during their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - After condemning the series of deadly bomb attacks on Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels on Sunday that killed more than 200 people, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told voters that they needed to elect him to a second term as only he can beat the "terrorists" threatening India.

"Should terrorism be finished or not?," he told an election rally in the western state of Rajasthan. "Who can do this? Can you think of any name aside from Modi? Can anybody else do this?"

Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have promoted the government's national security record as a vote winner in India's staggered general election that began on April 11 and will end on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

In particular, Modi's muscular stance against Pakistan, which New Delhi says backs armed Islamist militant groups, had boosted support for the BJP in a tightening election race where opposition parties have focused on weak jobs growth and low farm incomes.

Tensions between India and Pakistan peaked earlier this year after a February suicide bomb attack in disputed Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paratroopers, and was claimed by an Islamist militant group based in Pakistan. Modi then sent warplanes to Pakistan to bomb a purported training camp, in India’s first such aerial strike since 1971.

Indian officials say that three Indian nationals are known to be among the dead in the Sri Lankan attacks. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

"In our neighboring Sri Lanka, terrorists have played a bloody game. They killed innocent people," Modi said.

At another rally in Rajasthan on Sunday, Modi again mentioned the attacks in Sri Lanka and said that India, too, continues to suffer because of militants.

"India has now ended its policy of getting scared of Pakistan's threats," Modi said, "'We have a nuclear button, we have a nuclear button' they used to say."

"What do we have then?" he said, to cheers from the crowd.

Pakistan has 140 to 150 nuclear warheads, compared with India’s 130-140 warheads, according to estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Both countries have ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Additional reporting by Jose Devasia; Editing by Martin Howell and Louise Heavens)