By Aftab Ahmed and Nikunj Ohri

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved $15 billion worth of infrastructure projects in the last week as he bolsters support days before the schedule for national elections is to be announced, but the opposition Congress party was unimpressed.

Between Monday and Wednesday, Modi visited the southern states of Telangana and Tamil Nadu and the eastern states of Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar, where he announced projects he hopes will help lift India from the world’s fifth-largest economy to the third. He visits Assam on Saturday.

Modi has made high growth and infrastructure development his key poll plank in his last two tenures. He has promised to make India a developed country by 2047 from the its current status of a low-middle income country.

Modi’s spending projects come days before the election announcement, after which he will not be not be allowed to try to pull in voters with big schemes.

Modi has been criticised for high unemployment and has announced targeted welfare schemes for women and farmers. The main opposition Congress has promised job guarantees if it comes to power and its chief spokesman questioned Modi’s spending on infrastructure.

“Almost all the projects that he is inaugurating are either completions or expansions of projects that were in place before he became the prime minister,” Jairam Ramesh said in a social media post. He called Modi a “conjurer of lies”.

India is preparing to run the world’s largest election by May with more than 960 million voters.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projected to win a third consecutive term comfortably, opinion polls suggest. If it does, Modi will become the first prime minister to win three straight terms since first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

“It is not an election but a journey for blessings for development. We are inaugurating bridges, other infrastructure,” senior BJP leader and eastern state of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters.

The BJP has to secure 272 of 543 seats to form the government.

With 8.4% economic growth in the three months to December, India has remained the fastest growing major economy in the world. Retail inflation remains within the central bank’s target band of 2%-6% for most months.

“Despite global headwinds and heightened geopolitical uncertainty, Indian economic growth has been above 7%,” Paras Jasrai, economist at India Ratings, said.

India’s stock market has also hit record highs helped by the robust economy and weakness in China.

(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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