India’s divided opposition has seized on a new way to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s powerful Bharatiya Janata Party: bringing national and regional rivals together to take on the ruling party.
The reversal of the BJP’s fortunes in the southern state of Karnataka — where it won the most seats but was ousted by a coalition composed of the Congress party and the regional Janata Dal (Secular) party — marks one more election loss at the hands of a united opposition. Despite a string of state poll victories, alliances have also thwarted Modi in recent Uttar Pradesh by-elections and in the 2015 Bihar state elections.
The Karnataka result shows India’s main opposition may be prepared to take junior roles in coalitions if it means taking down Modi. So even if the BJP remains the most popular party, they could still lose upcoming state polls or suffer losses in next year’s national election.
On May 21, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted that he planned to attend the swearing-in ceremony for Janata Dal (S) leader and incoming Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy on Wednesday in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka.
“The alliance in Karnataka is a platform for a larger anti-BJP coalition on a national scale,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist and pro vice chancellor at Jain University in Bengaluru.
The BJP rules 20 of India’s 29 states. In Karnataka, it won 104 seats in the 224-seat legislature, compared to Congress’s 78 seats and 37 for the Janata Dal (S), leaving Modi’s party eight seats short of a majority.
As the battle to form the state government unfolded, the opposition coalition was cheered on by leaders of two powerful regional parties: Mamata Banerjee of the All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, the Dalit leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
That support suggests growing national interest in an anti-BJP alliance, said N Sathiya Moorthy, a Chennai-based senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think-tank.