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India's regional parties seal alliance ahead of elections

Source: Reuters - Tue, 25 Feb 2014 15:01 GMT
Author: Reuters
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NEW DELHI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - India regional parties met on Tuesday to declare a political alternative to the two main national parties, the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata (BJP), ahead of national elections due by May.

Congress has led coalition governments in the world's largest democracy for the past decade but may struggle to win re-election this year due to a string of corruption scandals and sagging economic growth. The BJP is forecast to emerge as the single largest party but still fall short of a majority.

Eleven regional parties have established an alliance to fight corruption, deliver more economic development and strengthen federalism in the run-up to the elections.

"It is time for a change and to throw out the Congress from power. The BJP, which claims to be the alternative, has no policies different from that of the Congress," the regional party group said in a joint declaration.

It described BJP ideology as divisive and communal, and offered up their grouping as a "secular" alternative.

Regional parties and their often charismatic leaders have become more powerful national players in recent years. Parties other than Congress and the BJP are set to bag around half of the seats in the elections, according to a poll conducted by pollsters CVoter for the India Today media group.

Nitish Kumar, Bihar state chief minister, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, a powerful political leader from the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, both attended the meeting. Together, the two states account for 120 seats of the 543 at stake in parliament.

A representative of Jayaram Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and Left leaders also joined hands in the alternative alliance, often dubbed the "Third Front".

A government made up of several regional groups with diverse agendas could prove unwieldy, a potential problem for Asia's third-largest economy, whose growth has slowed for a decade due to the slow pace of reform under Congress' watch.

Any third front would need to work hard to counter the rising popularity of Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, analysts say.

Modi, who has presided over rapid economic growth during more than 12 years as chief minister of Gujarat, has been wooing voters by pointing to his track record as a leader who cuts red tape and attracts investment. (Reporting by Sruthi Gottipati and Nigam Prusty; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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