(Bloomberg) -- Cracks are beginning to emerge among India’s opposition alliance after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party routed its main rival in recent state elections, putting him in a strong position to stay in power for another five years.
Sunday’s unexpected results gave Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party a clear mandate to govern three out of five states that voted in November. India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, won just one.
That’s prompted some public displeasure among an alliance of more than two dozen opposition parties that was created with one purpose in mind: to defeat the electoral juggernaut of the prime minister and his party in the national vote in 2024.
The Congress party, whose public face is Rahul Gandhi, had initially organized a meeting of senior opposition leaders for Wednesday to discuss strategy, but abruptly rescheduled after several senior members said they wouldn’t be available. Mamata Bannerjee from the Trinamool Congress said publicly she had other duties to attend to as chief minister of West Bengal state. She said she’d attend the alliance bloc’s next meeting whenever it’s decided, local media reported.
Opposition leaders have also raised questions about the Congress party’s decision to forgo the alliance partnership in the state elections. Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a leader of a regional party in the state, said Congress only “remembered the I.N.D.I.A. alliance after three months.”
Another senior opposition member, who asked not to be identified in order to speak frankly, said Congress had tried to go it alone in the state elections to win more bargaining power in the opposition alliance, but that approach has failed.
Sunday’s results raises doubts over whether the Congress-led alliance can unseat India’s most popular politician in next year’s elections.
“The Congress was expected to win two or more states,” said Neerja Chowdhury, an author and political columnist. “Instead it’s been downed to one and completely a rout in the Hindi heartland, which is where it wanted to revive and has to revive in order to give a fight to the BJP.”
Indian politics has been dominated by Modi and the BJP for close to a decade with a mixed rhetoric of Hindu nationalism and economic development. Modi’s government has targeted low-income voters, especially women, by providing them with substantial cash-handouts and subsidies.
The state election results showed that while Congress increased its share of the vote in the southern state of Telangana, so did the BJP. In Chhattisgarh, the ruling party won 39 more seats than it did in the previous election, taking votes away from Congress as well as regional parties.
Sanjay Raut, a senior regional party leader, said some party leaders had “grievances” over the Congress’s strategy of contesting the state elections on its own. But he said the Indian alliance is still strong and has their support.
Recent events might actually allow allied parties more leverage, according to Chowdhury.
“This may make the process of seat adjustments easier than would’ve been the case had the Congress won in several states,” she said.
Gandhi said Sunday that the “battle of ideology will continue” as he acknowledged the party’s defeat.
For the opposition, the main roadblock is the prime minister. A powerhouse in himself, Modi hopscotched across the states for an entire month and asked voters to trust him and believe in the “guarantee” of a better life promised by him.
Modi has projected himself as the only leader who has been able to win India a seat at the global table and as someone who can conjure up a bright future for 1.4 billion people.
--With assistance from Eltaf Najafizada.
(Updates with comments from opposition leader.)
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