India’s Opposition Fractures as BJP Ally Severs Ties Over Modi

India’s political opposition splintered less than a year before the next election as the largest ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party severed ties over its aversion to the growing power of Gujarat leader Narendra Modi.

The Janata Dal (United), which had run a coalition government in the eastern state of Bihar with the BJP and has 20 lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, yesterday announced after a meeting of senior leaders in Patna, the province’s capital, it was quitting the National Democratic Alliance.

While not mentioning Modi by name, Janata Dal chief Nitish Kumar said he’d “been compelled” to pull out as the BJP’s new leadership was following a path that violated his party’s principles. Sharad Yadav, another JD(U) leader, said the BJP had been warned of repercussions ahead of its June 9 convention where Modi was appointed to run the party’s campaign for polls due by May 2014.

“This is a big jolt to the BJP as they can’t win power alone and need allies,” said Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “The toughest challenge to the BJP and Modi in the run up to elections is going to be to keep everyone together.”

Modi, 62, has fended off challengers within the party to emerge as the BJP’s preeminent force. While the BJP is seeking to translate his reputation among business leaders as an economic reformer and able administrator into votes amid the slowest growth in a decade, some parties are concerned they may lose the support of Muslim voters who blame Modi for failing to control riots in Gujarat in 2002 that targeted the community.

One-Man Party

“When you are trying to form a government, you should follow an agenda that will attract more allies,” Kumar told reporters in Patna yesterday. “The BJP is not trying to do that.”

The “BJP was never a one-man party in the past and we fear it will be a one-man party in the future,” Devesh Chandra Thakur, a JD(U) leader, told CNN-IBN television channel in an interview.

The political temperature is rising in India as the Congress Party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is struggling to shake off corruption allegations, reboot Asia’s third-biggest economy and enact a stalled legislative agenda. Leaders of the Congress, which has lost the support of two key allies since September, have stepped up attacks on Modi.

Third Front

And as opinion polls point to no clear mandate for either of the two big parties once votes are counted, smaller regional groups are bidding to revive a so-called Third Front coalition. Kumar has said he has held consultations with other parties and the chief ministers of West Bengal and Odisha on forming a political alternative to the Congress and BJP.

While similar attempts have collapsed before recent elections, a grouping of provincial parties did govern India from 1996 to 1998, propped up by the Congress.

“It is hard to see a Third Front forming,” said Ramesh Dixit, a professor of politics at Lucknow University, based in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state. “Many of the smaller parties that would need to come together to form a government clash because of different ideologies or compete locally.”

Modi’s promotion has triggered a tumultuous week for the BJP. Lal Krishna Advani, who drove it from the political fringes in the late 1980s to the seat of power a decade later, briefly resigned his posts June 10, citing a takeover by leaders he said were putting personal ambition before the party. He rescinded the decision after visits from BJP chiefs.

Gandhi Role

Neither Congress nor the BJP is yet to name an official candidate for prime minister. That hasn’t stopped the local media from portraying the coming battle has a face off between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has dominated Indian politics since independence from British rule.

Gandhi, 42 and son of the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was appointed as his party’s vice president in January and will lead its election campaign.

Singh’s second term as prime minister has been punctuated by corruption scandals -- including over the award of mobile-phone permits and coal mines. Protests in parliament paralyzed policy making for almost two years. In his latest bid to inject new energy into his administration, Singh will today announce a cabinet overhaul.

Rupee Slide

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram last week vowed more steps to boost economic growth and stabilize the rupee after it slid to a record low.

Sixty-one percent of those polled last month for CNN-IBN said Singh should be replaced as prime minister, while 37 percent supported him continuing in the post. About 67 percent said Singh’s government has lost its credibility in the face of graft scandals and rising prices. Only 31 percent said the Congress party-led coalition represented the best option for running India.

While 38 percent want Modi as the country’s next prime minister, only 14 percent favor Gandhi, according to the poll.

A C-voter survey for the Times Now TV channel found in April that a drop in support for Congress would slash its strength in parliament after an election. The party may win 113 seats, a fall of 90, in the 545-member lower house, it said. The main opposition alliance led by the BJP was on course to make only marginal advances as regional parties are gaining in strength, the survey said.

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