India’s disparate opposition parties are aiming to firm up an alliance as they sense a chance of unseating Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a staggered general election draws to a close.
The seven-phase election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise, began on April 11 and winds up on May 19. Votes will be counted and the result announced on May 23. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went into the election as front-runner, buoyed by his image as tough and decisive after he ordered a military strike on Pakistan over a militant bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
But his opponents have maintained their focus on farm distress and unemployment, issues that helped the main opposition Congress party defeat the BJP in state assembly elections in three rural states late last year. Now the opposition believes the tide is turning.
“We’ve all collectively recognised the reality that the BJP is losing significant votes, therefore we are mutually exploring the formation of a cohesive and durable government that will fulfil the aspirations of India,” Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said. He said the negotiations among opposition parties to work out a “viable alternative” to Modi’s government would be finalised before the May 23 result.
Taking the lead in preparations to take power is N. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and formerly a BJP ally, according to his regional Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Naidu has been in touch with leaders of most opposition parties, meeting some in person, TDP officials said.
Modi and other BJP leaders brush off the opposition threat. BJP President Amit Shah goaded the opposition on Thursday to name its prime ministerial candidate, amid criticism of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated India’s politics for much of its history since independence from Britain in 1947.
Congress’s Jha, asked if Gandhi would be candidate for prime minister, said there was “no talent deficit” in the opposition.