India’s disparate opposition senses a growing chance to topple Modi

India’s disparate opposition senses a growing chance to topple Modi
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration of a hydroelectric power plant in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar, May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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-phaseelection, the world's biggest democratic exercise, began on April 11 and windsup on May 19. Votes will be counted and the result announced on May 23. Modi'sHindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went into the election asfront-runner, buoyed by his image as tough and decisive after he ordered a militarystrike on Pakistan over a militant bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

But his opponentshave maintained their focus on farm distress and unemployment, issues thathelped the main opposition Congress party defeat the BJP in state assemblyelections in three rural states late last year. Now the opposition believes thetide is turning.

"We've allcollectively recognised the reality that the BJP is losing significant votes,therefore we are mutually exploring the formation of a cohesive and durable governmentthat will fulfil the aspirations of India," Congress spokesman Sanjay Jhasaid. He said the negotiations among opposition parties to work out a"viable alternative" to Modi's government would be finalised beforethe May 23 result.

Taking the lead inpreparations to take power is N. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of thesouthern state of Andhra Pradesh, and formerly a BJP ally, according to hisregional Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Naidu has been in touch with leaders of mostopposition parties, meeting some in person, TDP officials said.

Modi and other BJPleaders brush off the opposition threat. BJP President Amit Shah goaded theopposition on Thursday to name its prime ministerial candidate, amid criticismof Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that hasdominated India's politics for much of its history since independence fromBritain in 1947.

Congress's Jha,asked if Gandhi would be candidate for prime minister, said there was "notalent deficit" in the opposition.

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