NEW DELHI: Rival political parties in India are putting aside long-held differences in a bid to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
An agreement between the Congress Party and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) — the ruling party of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and a strong regional party — this week gave new impetus to an opposition alliance challenging the BJP.
The Congress Party and the TDP are long-time political rivals and few would have predicted they would come together on a single political platform.
“We have to defend the democracy, the institutions and the future of this country,” Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party president, told a press conference on Wednesday after meeting TDP President Chandrababu Naidu. “We will talk about the present and look into the future, we will not talk about the past.”
Until recently the TDP was an ally of the BJP in New Delhi.
“The way the BJP is ruling the country, misusing the institutions, bulldozing them — it is in the national interest for the opposition parties to unite and challenge the BJP,” said Mandava Venkateshwara Rao, a TDP leader in Hyderabad.
Rao told Arab News that “the Congress alone is not in a position to take on the BJP, so there is a need for other opposition parties to come together.
“Similar larger alliances of opposition parties took place in 1977 when a grouping of smaller and regional parties managed to defeat the Congress Party when it was all-powerful.
“Even in its heyday, the Congress Party never talked about eliminating other opposition parties, but the BJP wants all opposing voices to vanish,” he said.
Two other regional parties — the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of the western Indian state of Maharashtra and the National Conference (NC) of Kashmir — also offered their support to the opposition alliance.
Speculation is rife that in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, two strong regional parties — Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — will forge an alliance with the Congress Party for the 2019 general elections.
The BJP national spokesperson, Sudesh Verma, described the opposition as an “opportunistic alliance desperately formed for the survival of each of its players.
“Democracy is vibrant and the opposition’s slogan of saving democracy is not correct,” he told Arab News.
“This is an attempt to confuse people with a false narrative. The fight is between dynasts and democracy. Barring a few, all likely parties in the so-called alliance will be working to save their dynasty. They won’t be able to face a Modi tsunami in 2019.”
Dr. Ajay Kumar, a senior leader of Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a regional ally of the BJP, said that the Congress Party was struggling to deal with its own internal differences.
“How can they form an opposition alliance?” he asked.
Political analyst and writer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said opposition parties were finally getting around to the idea that “the principal goal was to defeat the BJP.”
He told Arab News that the opposition must counter attempts by the BJP to fight the elections on a single political narrative.
“The basic question the BJP is posing is: If not Modi, then who?
“So the opposition’s strategy has to be that anybody is better than Modi,” he said.