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India's opposition parties team up to challenge Modi's Hindu nationalist party in 2024 elections

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s fractured opposition parties decided Friday to jointly contest the 2024 national elections in their bid to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and prevent his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party from achieving a third straight win.

The 26 opposition parties decided to work out seat-sharing arrangements in different states in "a collaborative spirit of give-and-take″ to avoid splitting votes in favor of Modi’s party.

India’s national elections are scheduled to be held around May next year.

Congress party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi joined other key opposition leaders, including Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury and Laloo Yadav, at a two-day meeting in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.

Their goal would be to set up a direct fight by putting one contestant against a BJP candidate in each voting district.

The opposition parties formed the alliance in June, named the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Called INDIA for short, it is challenging Modi’s party on its economic record, rising unemployment and a host of other domestic problems.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party president, said that at stake is the future of India’s multiparty democracy and secular foundations that have seen assaults from Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

"Modi’s government is slowly taking the country toward a dictatorship,” Kharge told reporters after the meeting.

Sambit Patra a BJP spokesman, slammed the opposition parties’ meeting and said their alliance was only for pretending unity and they will end up fighting badly with each other during the 2024 elections.

Laloo Yadav, a former Bihar state chief minister, complained that the opposition leaders have been the targets of raids and investigations by federal agencies controlled by the Modi government.

Over a dozen of these instances have led to defections of opposition leaders to the BJP, which is sometimes followed by dropped charges or pressure otherwise being eased. The BJP denies its involvement in the cases.

Modi’s rule has coincided with the economy recovering after the COVID-19 epidemic, rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.

However, analysts say the opposition’s effort to oust Modi is a difficult task. He is by far India’s most popular leader, and his party directly controls 10 of the 28 states, is in coalition in four other states, and has more than 55% of Parliament’s lower house 543 seats.

Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014 and won a second term for his party in 2019 with an easy victory against a splintered opposition.