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India’s opposition, portrayed as too weak, is making a stunning comeback to slow down Modi’s juggernaut


NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s bruised and battered opposition was largely written off ahead of the election the national elections as too weak and fragmented to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his powerful Hindu nationalist ruling party.

It scored a stunning comeback, slowing down the Modi juggernaut and pushing his Bharatiya Janata Party well below the majority mark. It is unknown territory for the populist Prime Minister, who needs the help of his allies to stay in power. That could significantly change his governing style after a decade of commanding an impressive majority in parliament.

The election results released on Wednesday also marked a revival for the main opposition Congress party and its allies, who defied predictions of decline and made deep inroads into ruling party strongholds, resetting India’s political landscape. The opposition won a total of 232 out of 543 seats, doubling its power compared to the last election.

“The opposition has proven to be extremely resilient and convincing. In many ways, it saved Indian democracy and showed Modi that he can be challenged – and even humiliated by tarnishing his image of electoral invincibility,” said journalist and political analyst Rasheed Kidwai.

The unwieldy grouping of more than twenty opposition parties, called INDIA, was formed last year. Beset by ideological differences and personality conflicts, what bound them together was a shared perceived threat: what they call Modi’s tightening grip on India’s democratic institutions and parliament, and his strident Hindu nationalism targeting the country’s minorities, especially Muslims.

The election battle is between “Narendra Modi and INDIA, his ideology and INDIA,” the alliance’s campaign face, Rahul Gandhi, said at an opposition rally last year.

Gandhi, heir to India’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has long been derided by Modi, his party and his supporters as a beneficiary of dynastic politics. Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers.

Under his leadership, the Congress Party was reduced to a paltry 52 seats in 2019, as Modi romped to victory in a landslide. And last year he was expelled from parliament in a defamation case after Modi’s party accused him of mocking the prime minister’s surname. (He was later returned to his seat by India’s highest court.)

But ahead of the 2024 elections, Gandhi underwent a transformation: He embarked on two marches across the country against what he called Modi’s politics of hate, energizing his party’s members and rehabilitating his image.

During the election campaign, he, together with other opposition leaders, tried to galvanize voters on issues such as: high unemploymentrising inequality and economic and social injustice, as Modi focused on his polarizing campaign and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“They certainly gained significant momentum over the course of the campaign, to the point where the opposition agendas became the agenda items of this election,” said Yamini Aiyar, a public policy scholar.

The election results showed that his messaging resonated with voters as his party made significant gains in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra by taking advantage of economic tensions. It won 99 seats across India.

“Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a strong national leader and that should worry Modi,” Kidwai said.

The opposition proved even more successful in a Modi party bastion, where it flipped the largest number of seats: Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most lawmakers of any state — 80 — to parliament.

Long considered the biggest prize in Indian elections, the opposition won as many as 44 parliamentary seats in the state, with the regional Samajwadi Party winning as many as 37 seats, leaving Modi’s party with less than half the seats. In the 2019 elections, the BJP won 62 seats in the state.

The opposition also managed to wrest the seat from the BJP in the city of Ayodhya, a deeply symbolic loss for Modi’s party after the prime minister opened an election rally. controversial large Hindu temple at the site of a destroyed mosque there in January. The opening of the temple dedicated to Lord Ram, where Modi performed rituals, marked the unofficial start of his election campaign, which his party hoped would resonate with the Hindu majority and draw more voters into its fold.

“The BJP lost because its leadership did not listen to the ground. They believed that the Ram temple issue would ensure their victory, but they overlooked important issues like jobs and inflation,” said political analyst Amarnath Agarwal.

A strong performance by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party in Tamil Nadu further boosted the opposition numbers, denying Modi the supermajority he hoped for after showing confidence that his alliance would win 400 seats.

It also meant that regional parties, once relegated to the margins after Modi’s dominant victories in 2014 and 2019, will gain greater political space in Indian politics.

“It also gives a lot of power back to the states,” said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We have seen a lot of centralization in the hands of the executive, particularly in the hands of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The opposition’s surprise gains came against the backdrop of what it calls Modi’s intensified political crackdown against them.

Modi and his government are increasingly using strong-arm tactics to subdue political opponents. In the run-up to the elections, opposition leaders and parties faced a range of legal and financial challenges. The chief ministers of two opposition-controlled states were thrown in jail and the Congress party’s bank accounts were temporarily frozen.

Aiyar, a public policy scholar, said the opposition was able to “notice tangible signs of dissatisfaction” even as it faced “actually significant constraints.”

“This was certainly not a level playing field at the start of the election,” she said.

As election results showed the opposition doing better than expected on Tuesday, a beaming Gandhi pulled out a red-jacketed copy of the Indian Constitution that he had displayed during the campaign and said his alliance’s performance was the “ first step in her fight” were to save. the charter.

“India’s poorest rose up to save the Constitution,” he said.


Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, contributed to this report.

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