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

Modi, BJP leaders brush off opposition threat

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he delivers a speech during a rally ahead of Phase VI of India’s general election in New Delhi. — AFP

NEW DELHI: 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. V

otes 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 recognized the reality that the BJP is losing significant votes, therefore we are mutually exploring the formation of a cohesive and durable government that will fulfill 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 finalized 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 yesterday 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.

Many choices
Congress was criticized for failing to strike an election alliance with many anti-Modi regional parties, some of them caste-based and run by politicians with much more experience than Gandhi.

They include Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state, and Mayawati, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state. Naidu has been negotiating with both of them as well as the chief of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), based in the eastern state of Odisha. Political strategists have said that the BJD, the fifth largest party in the 545-seat lower house of parliament, could emerge as kingmaker. The BJD has also been wooed by Modi, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, but the party said it would only make a decision after the results are out. TDP spokesman Lanka Dinakar said he was confident the BJD would join with the opposition. “We have many choices to replace Modi,” he said. — Reuters

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