Ri­vals unite in In­dian state in bid to beat Modi in elec­tions

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW DELHI Jan 12 ( Reuters) - Two po­lit­i­cal ri­vals in the north­ern In­dian state of Ut­tar Pradesh will form an al­liance in a bid to de­feat Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in na­tional elec­tion sched­uled for May, lead­ers of the par­ties said.

The Samajwadi Party ( SP) and the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party ( BSP), both of whom com­mand large sup­port bases among Ut­tar Pradesh state's work­ing class and are led by for­mer chief min­is­ters, will con­test the elec­tion as a team, they said.

Ut­tar Pradesh is In­dia's most pop­u­lous state and ac­counts for about a sixth of all mem­bers of the par­lia­ment, the high­est by a sin­gle state. Bar­ring a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions in the 1990s, the party win­ning the most num­ber of seats there has helped form the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Out of the 80 seats in the state, SP and BSP will nom­i­nate can­di­dates for 38 seats each, BSP chief Mayawati Das said at a joint press con­fer­ence with SP chief Akhilesh Ya­dav on Sat­ur­day.

They will not con­test the other four seats, which in­clude two that have his­tor­i­cally been held by the coun­try's main op­po­si­tion party, Congress.

Congress, which ruled In­dia for nearly four decades since its in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1947, has also been work­ing to build a “grand al­liance” with other par­ties ahead of the polls.

Mayawati, how­ever, said Congress would not be a part of the BSP- SP al­liance in Ut­tar Pradesh. “We can surely stop the BJP from com­ing to power with this al­liance with SP,” she said.

On Fri­day, Ya­dav had told news chan­nel NDTV: “We can give Congress two seats they have al­ways held”, re­fer­ring to the con­stituen­cies from where Congress Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi and his mother So­nia Gandhi have con­tested in the past.

Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, head of Tri­namool Congress party and chief min­is­ter of eastern In­dia's West Ben­gal state who has been push­ing to cre­ate a mega al­liance of re­gional par­ties to de­feat the BJP, wel­comed the an­nounce­ment in a tweet.

“I wel­come the al­liance of the SP and the BSP for the forth­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions,” Ban­er­jee tweeted.

“Let us cher­ish the ' idea of In­dia' for which our free­dom fight­ers laid down their lives. Our peo­ple and our great in­sti­tu­tions must strive to re­main “in­de­pen­dent”, in the true sense of the word.”

Op­po­si­tion par­ties across the coun­try re­ceived a fil­lip last month, when In­dia's rul­ing party lost power in three states and dealt Modi his big­gest de­feat since he took of­fice in 2014.

The BJP, SP and BSP con­tested against each other dur­ing the state elec­tions in March 2017, which the BJP com­fort­ably won, but po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say a BSP-SP al­liance could af­fect the rul­ing party's prospects.

The BJP had a 40 per­cent vote share in the state polls, the BSP and SP put to­gether ac­counted for 44 per­cent. To be sure, vot­ing pat­terns could be dif­fer­ent when the world's largest democ­racy goes to polls.

The BJP, how­ever, is con­fi­dent of win­ning elec­tions in Ut­tar Pradesh. “We will win 74 out of the 80 seats in Ut­tar Pradesh,” pres­i­dent Amit Shah said in a tele­vised ad­dress on Fri­day.

De­spite the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance and hav­ing been ruled by dif­fer­ent par­ties since in­de­pen­dence, Ut­tar Pradesh remains one of In­dia's most back­ward states.

It is no­to­ri­ous for its crime rate and un­li­censed gun use, has below- av­er­age literacy lev­els, an abysmally low hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­dex and wor­ry­ing lev­els of pop­u­la­tion growth.

In­dian stu­dents re­act on a swing dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions for Pon­gal, the Tamil har­vest fes­ti­val, at a col­lege in Chen­nai on Jan­uary 12.(Photo by Arun Sankar / AFP)

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