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Billionaire among prominent Indians flocking to Modi's party ahead of vote

FILE PHOTO: India's PM Modi looks on after speaking with media inside parliament premises, in New Delhi

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A billionaire industrialist and a former Indian Air Force chief on Sunday became the latest prominent figures, including a judge and an ambassador, to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party in recent weeks as it seeks to widen its lead over the opposition.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to win a third straight term in elections starting next month, as the opposition struggles to stay together while its leaders are embroiled in various corruption investigations.

Analysts say the wave of new joiners, many from the main opposition Congress party that has ruled India for more than five decades, indicates the inevitability of another BJP win.

Naveen Jindal, head of Jindal Steel and Power and a two-time Congress parliamentarian, followed the country's last air force chief, Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, in joining the BJP late on Sunday. Moments after he quit Congress, the BJP said Jindal would contest the upcoming election from his home state of Haryana for the party.

"To fulfil the resolve of Prime Minister Modi for a developed India, famous industrialist, sportsperson and politician Naveen Jindal joined the BJP today," BJP General Secretary Vinod Tawde told a press conference, with Jindal by his side thanking Modi for the opportunity.

Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who resigned as a judge of the Calcutta High Court earlier this month, will also contest the election for the BJP.

On Saturday, six former lawmakers from Congress in the state of Himachal Pradesh joined the BJP. Before that, India's ambassador to the United States until January, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, became a member and is expected to contest the polls.

Unlike previous governments that mostly relied on seasoned politicians to run key ministries, Modi roped in experts to head important departments like foreign, technology and energy in his current term that began in 2019.

Opposition parties say many of their members have been forced into joining the BJP out of fear of corruption investigations. The BJP denies that.

Congress, meanwhile, says it is short of money even for campaign work because authorities have frozen its accounts in connection with a number of tax investigations.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; editing by Giles Elgood)