Rivals unite in Indian state in bid to beat Modi in elections
By Sudarshan Varadhan and Suvashree Choudhury
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Two political rivals in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh will form an alliance in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national election scheduled for May, leaders of the parties said.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both of whom command large support bases among Uttar Pradesh state's working class and are led by former chief ministers, will contest the election as a team, they said.
Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state and accounts for about a sixth of all members of the parliament, the highest by a single state. Barring a couple of exceptions in the 1990s, the party winning the most number of seats there has helped form the federal government.
Out of the 80 seats in the state, SP and BSP will nominate candidates for 38 seats each, BSP chief Mayawati Das said at a joint press conference with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday.
They will not contest the other four seats, which include two that have historically been held by the country's main opposition party, Congress.
Congress, which ruled India for nearly four decades since its independence from Britain in 1947, has also been working to build a "grand alliance" with other parties ahead of the polls.
Mayawati, however, said Congress would not be a part of the BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. "We can surely stop the BJP from coming to power with this alliance with SP," she said.
On Friday, Yadav had told news channel NDTV: "We can give Congress two seats they have always held", referring to the constituencies from where Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi have contested in the past.
Mamata Banerjee, head of Trinamool Congress party and chief minister of eastern India's West Bengal state who has been pushing to create a mega alliance of regional parties to defeat the BJP, welcomed the announcement in a tweet.
"I welcome the alliance of the SP and the BSP for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections," Banerjee tweeted.
"Let us cherish the 'idea of India' for which our freedom fighters laid down their lives. Our people and our great institutions must strive to remain "independent", in the true sense of the word."
OPPOSITION GETS A FILLIP
Opposition parties across the country received a fillip last month, when India's ruling party lost power in three states and dealt Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014.
The BJP, SP and BSP contested against each other during the state elections in March 2017, which the BJP comfortably won, but political analysts say a BSP-SP alliance could affect the ruling party's prospects.
The BJP had a 40 percent vote share in the state polls, the BSP and SP put together accounted for 44 percent. To be sure, voting patterns could be different when the world's largest democracy goes to polls.
The BJP, however, is confident of winning elections in Uttar Pradesh. "We will win 74 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh," president Amit Shah said in a televised address on Friday.
Despite the strategic significance and having been ruled by different parties since independence, Uttar Pradesh remains one of India's most backward states.
It is notorious for its crime rate and unlicensed gun use, has below-average literacy levels, an abysmally low human development index and worrying levels of population growth.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan and Suvashree Dey Choudhury; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Himani Sarkar)
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