Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a fondness for abbreviations and acronyms that create buzz around his government schemes.
Last week, Modi’s political opponents did exactly that as they announced a new alliance – called “INDIA” – to deny Modi a third straight win and defeat his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s election.
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The acronym, which stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, comprises 26 opposition parties so far. More parties could join the alliance ahead of the general elections due by May.
Here’s what you need to know about INDIA:
Who is leading the coalition?
The INDIA is led by the Indian National Congress party which once dominated the country’s politics.
The election battle is between “Narendra Modi and INDIA, his ideology and INDIA,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said at a two-day conclave of the alliance in Bengaluru on July 18. “India always wins all fights.”
Many say Gandhi’s 136-day march on foot across the length of the country shot India’s grand old party back into political prominence.
In recent elections, Congress toppled the BJP governments in state elections in southern Karnataka and northern Himachal Pradesh, denting the Hindu nationalist party’s image of invincibility.
“The main aim is to stand together to safeguard democracy and the constitution,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said at the conclave.
While the party leads the alliance, it has said it is not interested in the prime minister’s post. Kharge said a committee of 11 members will be set up to coordinate the coalition in their next meeting in Mumbai.
Who are the other partners?
Besides Congress, the other main opposition parties that form INDIA are the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which governs the crucial West Bengal state; the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which is in power in the southern Tamil Nadu state; and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which rules in Delhi and Punjab states.
The other prominent allies are the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which together govern the key state of Bihar in the east; and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which rules over neighbouring Jharkhand with its allies.
The National Congress Party (NCP-Sharad Pawar), the Shiv Sena (UBT), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi (KMDK), the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), the Communist Party of India- Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML Liberation), the Forward Bloc, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the Kerala Congress (Joseph), the Kerala Congress (Mani), the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), and the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) are the other members in the 26-party alliance.
Some of these are powerful regional parties that are direct rivals to some of their own alliance partners in some states. The parties are also beset with ideological differences and personality clashes, and seem undecided on whether to cede space to other groups in regions where they hold sway.
What is INDIA’s main agenda?
Nearly a decade of Modi’s rule in India has been marked by a struggling economy, rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.
The 26-party alliance hopes to attack the BJP on these issues as well as a host of other domestic problems, including a deadly ethnic conflict in the northeastern state of Manipur.
The opposition on Wednesday moved a no-confidence vote in parliament against Modi’s government over the Manipur violence in which more than 130 people have been killed and some 50,000 displaced in the remote state since May 3.
At stake, the alliance says, is the future of India’s multiparty democracy and secular foundations that critics say have seen regular assaults from the BJP.
Rajeev Gowda of the Congress told Al Jazeera the opposition formed a united front to “restore democracy” in the country.
“There are many issues that people are facing. The first is the failure on the economic front. No new jobs have been created. There has been a lot of polarisation, hatred and violence. All these have to be changed. That’s why we have come together. We want to expose the failures of this government,” he said.
India has a Westminster-style parliamentary system, and a large opposition bloc has a significant chance to emerge victorious by winning more seats, even if its vote share is less than that of the governing party.
In the 2019 general elections, Modi’s BJP-led alliance won only 37 percent of the votes cast, but was still rewarded with 303 of the 543 seats.
How has Modi’s BJP responded?
The BJP has dismissed the alliance as a grouping of “self-serving, corrupt, dynastic parties”.
Party spokesman Guru Prakash Paswan told Al Jazeera “the only common thread that unites them [opposition parties] is the pursuit of power”.
“They are not concerned about the nation’s development or any other interest of the nation. The only thing that unites them is the lust for power, corruption and dynasty. That is the important thread,” he said.
“Our work and our vision is an answer to them. We have the mandate of people with us. We had it in 2014, 2019 and we will get a bigger mandate in 2024.”
On the same day the INDIA grouping was announced, the right-wing BJP held a convention of its own National Democratic Alliance (NDA), along with 37 other parties. Two of the NDA’s leading allies are breakaway factions from regional parties that are with the INDIA.
On Tuesday, Modi slammed the newly-formed opposition alliance, likening it to the East India Company, which was responsible for colonising the subcontinent in the 19th century.
“Merely forming an alliance named INDIA does not mean anything as the East India Company … also had the word India,” Modi said at a parliamentary meeting in New Delhi.
Responding to Modi’s comment, Gandhi said on Twitter: “Call us whatever you want, Mr Modi. We are INDIA.”