More than two dozen opposition parties in India have decided to jointly contest the 2024 national elections against Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they aim to prevent the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) third straight victory.
The 28-party bloc, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), on Friday announced that it will work out seat-sharing arrangements in different states to avoid splitting votes in favour of Modi’s party.
“We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible,” a statement from the bloc read.
“Seat-sharing arrangements in different states will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in a collaborative spirit of give-and-take.”
India’s national elections are scheduled to be held around May.
Indian National Congress party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi joined other key opposition leaders – including Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury and Lalu Prasad Yadav – at a two-day meeting in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.
Their goal was to set up a direct fight by putting one contestant against a BJP candidate in each voting district.
The opposition parties formed the alliance in June and are challenging Modi’s party on its economic record, rising unemployment and a host of other domestic problems, including rising anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We will be travelling to different locations to spread the word. The meetings will ensure that those at the centre will lose for sure. It will also ensure the freedom of media as well. We will stand together,” Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar state, said at a news conference after the two-day meeting, according to The Indian Express newspaper .
Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party president, said all segments of society, including public intellectuals and journalists, had been at the receiving end of the BJP’s “authoritarian misrule”.
“The communal poison that the BJP and RSS have spread over the last nine years is now seen in hate crimes against innocent train passengers and against innocent school children,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is a far-right Hindu nationalist organisation formed in 1925 along the lines of fascist groups in Europe. It aims to create a Hindu-majority state in India.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of the BJP and boasts of having Modi among millions of its members across India.
Sambit Patra a BJP spokesman, slammed the opposition parties’ meeting and said their alliance was only for pretend unity and they will end up fighting badly with each other during the 2024 elections.
Lalu Yadav, a former Bihar state chief minister, complained that the opposition leaders have been the targets of raids and investigations by federal agencies controlled by the Modi government.
More than a dozen of these instances have led to defections of opposition leaders to the BJP, which is sometimes followed by dropped charges or pressure otherwise being eased. The BJP denies its involvement in the cases.
Modi’s rule has coincided with the economy recovering after the COVID-19 epidemic, rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against minorities and a shrinking space for dissent.
A Swedish university project found that India has become an “electoral autocracy” as press freedom has deteriorated with the country slipping from 150 last year to 161 in this year’s rankings of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.
Political analysts have also pointed out the lack of a level playing field in electoral politics as the BJP has received three times more funding than its rival parties, according to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Modi has been accused of passing anti-Muslim legislation and implementing anti-Muslim policies.
These include ending the semi-autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority region, in 2019 and a law on citizenship that the United Nations human rights office described as “fundamentally discriminatory” for excluding Muslim migrants.
Nevertheless, analysts said the opposition effort to oust Modi will be a difficult task. He is by far India’s most popular leader, and his party directly controls 10 of India’s 28 states, is in coalition in four other states and has more than 55 per cent of the 543 seats in parliament’s lower house.
Modi became prime minister in 2014 and won a second term for his party in 2019 with an easy victory against a splintered opposition.
“The stage of INDIA represents 60 per cent of the population, and if we unite in an efficient way, it is impossible for the BJP to win,” Rahul Gandhi, a strident critic of Modi, said on Friday.