India Regional Parties Form Bloc as Alternative to Gandhi, Modi

Eleven Indian parties agreed to campaign as one bloc in national elections due by May seeking to offer an alternative to the ruling Congress party-led coalition and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance.

“There has to be an alternative which has a democratic, secular, federal and pro-people development agenda,” Prakash Karat, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told a press conference in New Delhi yesterday. “Massive corruption” has become a hallmark of the Congress government, he said, and the BJP “has no policies different from that of the Congress.”

The parties in the group currently hold 92 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament. Moody’s Investors Service said Feb. 11 that any so-called Third Front government could lack a common agenda to revive the country’s economy, pressuring both the rupee and India’s credit rating.

“This is posturing by some opportunist regional parties to prove their relevance at national politics, even as they don’t have commonality in terms of leadership, ideology and programs,” said Devendra Kumar, director of the Research & Development Initiative, a New Delhi-based research organization. “The individual leaders’ personal interests will determine their role after the election in forming a government.”

Recalls United Front

A regional-party coalition, the United Front, ran India’s government from 1996 to 1998, after neither of the two main parties could muster a majority. While the United Front cut taxes, took steps to increase trade and tried to attract foreign investment, it broke apart after two years. A regional-alliance national government in 1989 also failed to see out its term.

Among members of the new bloc are the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Three other regional groups -- Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party -- aren’t part of the alliance and their support is likely to play a role in deciding who forms the country’s next government.

Rahul Gandhi’s Congress and Narendra Modi’s BJP are wooing smaller parties to try to ensure victory. The BJP-led bloc is made up of two other regional parties and the Congress-led coalition is made up of nine parties.

Parliamentary Seats

Parties outside the BJP’s bloc and the Congress-led grouping could secure as many as 215 seats in the lower house of parliament, with the BJP emerging as the largest party with 217 seats, ABP News television channel and Nielsen said in a poll published Feb. 22. A Times Now and C-voter survey on Feb. 13 also gave the same number to regional parties.

Congress, in power in a coalition for a decade, will get just 73 seats, it’s lowest tally on record, according to the ABP News and Nielsen poll. The party has been beset by a deteriorating economy and graft allegations, which have led to opposition protests in parliament that repeatedly disrupted the legislature and slowed the pace of lawmaking.

Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, is promoting his image as a magnet for investment and record of stronger-than-average growth in the state he’s ruled since 2001. Opponents allege he’s an autocrat who failed to control deadly anti-Muslim rioting in Gujarat in 2002. He’s denied wrongdoing.

The regional parties said they came together in part to oppose Modi. The BJP and Modi are too pro-business and their support for Hindus will alienate the country’s minority communities, Karat said.

“They represent an ideology that spells divisiveness, disunity and communal disharmony that will endanger the secular, democratic fabric,” Karat said yesterday.

The Third Front are like “migratory birds” that will vanish after the election, Modi said at a campaign rally over the past weekend. “We need a strong government which can bring real development to the country.”

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