Leaders of 17 political parties in India agreed on Friday to form a united front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Loose coalitions have been formed in the past, but not since the 1980s have so many different parties banded together on a national level to take on ruling party in government, The Indian Express reported.
“There certainly will be some differences among us but we have decided we will work together, work with flexibility,” said Rahul Gandhi, a key figure in the Indian National Congress (INC) who was disqualified from parliament in March in a defamation case.
The meeting was hosted by the chief minister of the eastern Bihar state, Nitish Kumar, and was held in the state capital of Patna.
“Everyone has agreed that we will all work together in the interest of the country,” said Kumar of the Janata Dal-United Party.
“There is agreement to go together, there has been agreement to fight the elections together.”
Leaders take aim at Modi’s BJP
The meeting brought together senior politicians from a wide range of parties who are determined to deny Modi a third term as prime minister.
“If this dictatorial government returns this time, there will be no elections in future,” The Hindu reported West Bangal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as saying.
But representatives from some parties sat out the post-meeting press conference on Friday.
The Times of India reported that the Aam Aadmi Party would not join any alliance with the INC until it denounces a controversial central government ordinance that affects bureaucrats posted to the capital.
Meanwhile, the BJP dismissed the opposition talks as a “futile exercise.”
What’s next for the opposition?
The parties will meet again next month to formulate a strategy to defeat the Hindu-nationalist BJP at the polls.
This would include running joint candidates in certain constituencies around the country to prevent the BJP benefiting from a splintering in votes among opposition parties.
Kumar said the parties would also hash out a common manifesto outlining their plan for India’s economy, among other issues.
“There are many hurdles to cross before a proper opposition united front can take shape,” political analyst Arti Jerath told the Associated Press.
“But I think the compulsions for the opposition parties to present a united challenge to Modi are very, very big because in the last four years they have all faced harassment from federal investigative agencies and the BJP has played politics with all of them to break these parties and harass their leaders.”
“If they don’t put up a united challenge to Modi and somehow stop him from coming back, they all know it is going to be the end of the road for them because the BJP will not really allow any of these opposition parties, particularly the Congress, to survive,” he said.
zc/rs (Reuters, AP)