Risks Mount for India's Modi as Parties Team Up in Key State

(Bloomberg) -- Two powerful regional politicians are teaming up in India’s most populous state to take on the country’s ruling party ahead of national elections, in a move that complicates Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for a second term in office.

The leaders of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have decided “in principle” to unite to contest the polls in Uttar Pradesh, a state of more than 200 million people, for the general election due by May.

A formal announcement about an alliance is possible later this month, Rajendra Chaudhary, a spokesman of the Samajwadi Party, said in an interview on Sunday. His comments came following a meeting between BSP chief Mayawati and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, both of whom have served as the state’s chief minister in the past.

The number of seats each will contest will be decided by Yadav and Mayawati, Chaudhary said. The possible inclusion of the main national opposition Congress party in the coalition will be determined by the two leaders, and talks are ongoing to include some regional parties, he said.

Seat Sharing

A united coalition of opposition parties represents the biggest electoral threat to the BJP, which has a single-party majority in the lower house of parliament even before its coalition allies are considered.

An India TV-CNX opinion poll, taken in December after the ruling party lost power in three state elections, said the BJP’s coalition may only win 257 seats in the upcoming federal election. That’s 15 seats fewer than the 272-seat half-way point in India’s 543-seat lower house. Polls in India, however, are often inaccurate.

The Times of India had earlier reported the two parties in Uttar Pradesh are likely to formally announce a seat-sharing pact without Congress and may contest 37 seats each from Uttar Pradesh, which contributes 80 seats to parliament. Some of the remaining seats may be left for allies to make a broader coalition against the BJP, it said.

Winning in Uttar Pradesh will be key to forming the next federal government. Modi’s party had swept the state in 2014, winning 71 seats.

On Saturday, ahead of the alliance announcement, India’s federal investigative agency said it conducted raids in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in an ongoing probe of a case related to the alleged illegal mining of minerals in Uttar Pradesh under former chief minister Yadav’s watch.

The BJP -- which has ruled the state since 2017 -- has demanded the Central Bureau of Investigation examine Yadav’s role in that issue, Sidharth Nath Singh, a BJP government minister in Uttar Pradesh said at a press conference Sunday.

The opposition, meanwhile, has alleged the ruling party is using the agency to thwart their alliance in the state.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.