KOLKATA, India, January 19, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which beat the main opposition Congress and regional parties in 2014 elections now faces a tough challenge to stay in power after electoral reverses in three key states last month. Hundreds of thousands of people marched to Kolkata from rural West Bengal for the rally, bringing disruption to the city.
Mamata Banerjee, the 64-year-old chief minister of West Bengal, called on regional party leaders to join a single platform to defeat the Modi government which she termed as “anti-people” and said that it was “nearing its end”.
India’s main opposition parties – 23 regional groups – joined forces against the BJP yesterday at the rally which attracted thousands of people just a few months before the elections.
Leaders of India’s main opposition parties along with a couple of BJP rebels joined their hands together showcasing a “United India” rally ahead of the general election, in Kolkata, January 19, 2019. They said they forged a common front to stop Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
In view of the rural anger over weak farm prices and sluggish job creation, media polls have predicted that Team Modi could fall short of majority by nearly 25 LS seats in 2019.
Regional parties hold the key as they dominate the eastern states of West Bengal, Odisha, and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which together send 161 members to the 543 constituencies of parliament’s lower house. The BJP has little presence here.
In addition, earlier a strong alliance between Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was formed in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the LS.
Thus, Team Modi faces a serious risk of losing 2019 elections. And Mamta Banerjee, the rally’s organiser, could emerge as a prime ministerial candidate in case the BJP is unable to bring in the numbers.
Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, said Modi had failed to fulfil his promises including job creation.
“Modi had promised to create 20 million jobs a year but after a faulty launch of national sales tax and demonetisation in 2016 more than 10 million jobs were lost,” he said.
As per a report by the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy,
India’s unemployment rate hit 7.4 percent in December, highest in 15 months, while the number of people employed fell by nearly 11 million from a year ago.
However, the ruling BJP can derive some comfort from one eerie indication – tensions prevail among opposition leaders on who would be their prime ministerial candidate against Modi, because Rahul Gandhi, president of the main opposition Congress party and leaders of the left parties did not turn up for the Saturday’s lineup. Rahul
Gandhi only sent his representatives and a letter of support.
The BJP promptly dismissed the prospects of an opposition alliance, questioning who would lead such a coalition.
Attendees at the rally said their first priority was to defeat Modi, adding the replacement would be decided after the elections. Mamta Banerjee sought to address such concerns, saying all the opposition parties have promised to work together. “Who will be the prime minister can be decided after the Lok Sabha elections,” she said.
There were more than 20 national leaders, including former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie; three present chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal, Chandrababu Naidu and HD Kumaraswamy; and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Gegong Apang who attended the rally.
The BJP’s think-tank’s answer to such a rally would be to organise another rally. The PM Modi, meanwhile, is expected to unfold a populist package worth more than Rs 1 trillion ($14 billion) in his last budget on Feb 1, including benefits for farmers and all other sections of the society.