Mamata Banerjee during a sit-in over the CBIs attempt to question the Kolkata Police commissioner in Kolkata (Source: PTI) 

In Show of Unity, India Opposition Parties Seek Pre-Poll Accord

(Bloomberg) -- Opposition politicians from across India met this week to discuss formally teaming-up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the country’s upcoming general election.

The meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday evening was an important show of unity from India’s political opposition, which views an alliance as the best of way of ousting Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in elections due by May.

The meeting featured Rahul Gandhi, the president of the main opposition Congress party, as well as the Chief Ministers of the states of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, according to Congress spokesman Vineet Pinia. It also involved powerful regional politicians, including Jammu and Kashmir former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, as well as Maharashtra opposition figure Sharad Pawar, who hosted the get-together.

In Show of Unity, India Opposition Parties Seek Pre-Poll Accord

The opposition parties plan to form a formal pre-election alliance -- as opposed to cobbling a coalition together once results are known -- and will agree on a "common minimum" agenda, according to comments West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee made to news channel Asian News International.

"We will go in for a pre-poll alliance so that it doesn’t become a post-poll irritant," Banerjee said, according to the Indian Express. She had previously hosted a meeting of opposition figures in her state capital of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta.

Popularity Slide

"I would not underestimate the importance of this meeting," said Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and Pro Vice Chancellor of Bangalore’s Jain University.

The decision to come up with a common platform, as well as formally pursue a pre-election alliance, makes the united opposition parties "beyond a shadow of a doubt" a much bigger threat to Modi than they were previously, Shastri said.

"These parties which are opposed to the BJP realize that the only way they can challenge the BJP is by coming together," he said. However, he added, "stating that you will be coming together is very different than actually working out the nitty gritty. There will be serious differences."

BJP politicians have accused opposition parties of striking alliances of convenience that will yield unstable coalitions. "It is Modi vs. an unviable and an unworkable short-lived combination," wrote senior minister Arun Jaitley in a recent Facebook post.

The BJP, which won a single-party majority in 2014, has seen its popularity slide over rising concerns about job creation and economic development. Although Modi remains the most popular politician in India, some surveys now suggest his ruling coalition is likely to fall below the the 272-seat half-way mark in the country’s parliament.

An alliance of two regional opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, could be particularly damaging given the BJP won 71 of 80 federal seats there in 2014.

However, Indian political parties -- both at the national and state level -- regularly form and break alliances, and it is sometimes unclear which side politicians will end up choosing.

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