Indian opposition parties agree to work together to defeat governing party in next elections


New Delhi (AP) — Leaders of 17 Indian opposition parties agreed Friday to set aside their differences and put up a united fight in next year’s national election in an attempt 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 running joint candidates against the governing Bharatiya Janata Party’s nominees in constituencies across the country. That would prevent the BJP from benefitting from a splintering of votes among multiple opposition candidates.

Nitish Kumar, an opposition leader and chief minister of eastern Bihar state, said the parties will work on a common manifesto stating 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 curbing freedom of speech.

“We all stand united. We may have small differences, but we have decided to work together with flexibility and we will protect the ideology we share,” he said.

Several of the opposition leaders said Modi is trying to galvanize Hindu voters by remaining silent on attacks by Hindu nationalists 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 achieve a foothold in the east and south to win a third term.

But its recent defeats in elections in northern Himachal Pradesh and southern Karnataka states have raised hopes among opposition parties, many of which are regional groups, of successfully challenging Modi if they work together.

Opposition parties successfully banded together to defeat then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Congress party in 1977 elections held after she imposed emergency rule 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 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.

The BJP has dismissed the opposition talks as a “futile exercise.”

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