NEW DELHI (AP) — The leaders of 17 Indian opposition parties agreed Friday to put aside their differences and fight together in next year’s national elections in a bid to deny Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party a third consecutive term. .
They said they plan to meet again next month to formulate a strategy for fielding joint candidates against ruling Bharatiya Janata Party nominees in constituencies across the country. That would prevent the BJP from benefiting from a vote split between multiple opposition candidates.
Nitish Kumar, opposition leader and chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar, said the parties will work on a common manifesto setting out their economic and other priorities.
Rahul Gandhi, a key leader of the opposition Congress Party, accused Modi of weakening the country’s democratic institutions and limiting freedom of expression.
“We are all united. We may have small differences, but we have decided to work together flexibly and we will protect the ideology we share,” he said.
Several of the opposition leaders said Modi is trying to galvanize Hindu voters by staying silent about Hindu nationalists’ attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities. Hindus comprise 80% of India’s 1.4 billion people, Muslims 14% and Christians 2.3%.
Since taking power in 2014, Modi’s party has gained ascendancy in most Hindu-dominated areas in north and central India and is trying to establish itself in the east and south to win a third term.
But his recent defeats in elections in the northern states of Himachal Pradesh and southern Karnataka have raised hopes among opposition parties, many of which are regional groups, of successfully challenging Modi if they work together.
Opposition parties successfully united to defeat then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Congress party in the 1977 election held after she had imposed a state of emergency in 1975.
“There are many hurdles to cross before a proper opposition united front can take shape,” said Arti Jerath, a political analyst and columnist. “But I think that the compulsions of the opposition parties to present a united challenge to Modi are very, very great because in the last four years they have all faced harassment from the federal investigative agencies and the BJP has done politics with all of them to break these laws. parties and harass their leaders.
“If they don’t put up a united challenge to Modi and somehow prevent him from coming back, everyone knows it’s going to be the end of the road for them because the BJP really won’t allow any of these opposition parties, particularly the Congress, to survive,” he said. .
The BJP has dismissed the opposition talks as a “futile exercise”.
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