Signs of India’s opposition to Modi uniting after Gandhi’s sentencing

By YP Rajesh and Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – For the first time in years, India’s fragmented opposition is shedding its differences to take on strong Prime Minister Narendra Modi in what could result in a significant challenge in upcoming national elections in 2024. Provided the disparate groups can do so, they remain united, which is far from certain.

Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has dominated Indian politics, defeating the opposition in two consecutive general elections. But his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), does not get a majority vote and could run into trouble if faced with a solid opposition.

The opposition has come together after opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was convicted by the Congress party this month of defamation and expelled from parliament.

Opposition politicians say Gandhi’s shock disqualification and possible prison sentence is the latest evidence of the Modi government’s violent tactics, following investigations and legal problems other opposition parties have faced in recent months.

A day after Gandhi’s conviction, 14 political parties jointly petitioned the Supreme Court, saying that opposition groups were being targeted by federal law enforcement agencies. The court agreed to hear the lawsuit on April 5.

“We realize that this atmosphere is very, very dangerous and we have to get out of this evil atmosphere,” KC Venugopal, congressman and close associate of Gandhi, told Reuters. “It’s too early to announce a coalition … but we’re trying to come together and now we’re very comfortable with each other.”

On Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of eastern West Bengal state and leader of the Trinamool Congress party – the fourth largest in parliament – called for a united opposition to challenge Modi’s right-wing BJP in the 2024 election.

Banerjee had previously said her party would compete alone.

“The Modi government’s fascist moves have given opposition parties a new chance to unite,” Trinamool MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy told Reuters.

There was no immediate response from the prime minister’s office, but Modi has responded to some of the charges himself.

“When the authorities take action against those involved in corruption, the authorities are attacked. When the court makes a decision, the court is consulted. Some parties have launched a campaign together to save the corrupt,” he said this week.

The opposition parties say they will also protest together in front of and outside Parliament, be arrested in court and draw up plans to fight the BJP across the country in the coming weeks.


The 14 main opposition parties accounted for 39% of the national vote in the last elections of 2019, winning 160 seats in the 542-seat parliament. BJP alone received 38% of the vote but won 303 seats in the first-past-the-post system.

But there are signs that forging a lasting entity will be difficult.

A senior leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which governs the national capital area of ​​Delhi and the northern state of Punjab, said Congress was unable to be the opposition’s main “helmsman”. It must make way and support other groups in an alliance, said the leader, who asked not to be known because he is not authorized to speak to the media on a politically sensitive issue.

The Samajwadi party, the largest opposition party in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, expresses itself in a similar way. The party’s alliance with Congress in 2019 did not go well.

Other opposition leaders who spoke to Reuters said their unity would depend heavily on Congress’ willingness to include regional political parties and take a back seat in states where it no longer enjoys popular support.

The only success for a united opposition came in the 1977 general election, when the then-ruling Congress was overthrown by a coalition of parties from across the political spectrum.

Still, the coming together of major parties like the Trinamool, Samajwadi, AAP and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi in southern Telangana state is a political reversal, as these parties have long opposed Congress on a range of issues.

However, after nine years in power, Modi remains hugely popular with high approval ratings and is expected to easily win a third term in the face of a divided opposition so far.

“Antimodiism or anti-BJPism cannot be the glue that brings together different opposition parties with different aspirations and ambitions and positions,” said Nalin Kohli, the BJP’s national spokeswoman.

“There have been various times when they’ve tried to present a united front in Parliament, but … it’s never lasted more than a short period of time or a few weeks at most.”

(Reporting by YP Rajesh and Rupam Jain in NEW DELHI, additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA and Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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