The leaders of 26 opposition parties in India came together last week to form a new alliance to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the parliamentary elections expected next year.
The new coalition — called Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) — said in a statement that the BJP was assaulting the character of the republic.
They pledged to "safeguard the idea of India as enshrined in the Constitution."
"We are setting aside our political differences to save democracy. The main aim is to stand together to safeguard democracy and the constitution," said Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the nation's largest opposition Congress party.
Critics say since the BJP came to power in 2014, it has been pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda and polarizing Indian society along religious lines. But the BJP maintains that it represents all Indians and that it wants growth for all.
The new opposition coalition includes Congress as well as an array of powerful regional parties, such as the Aam Aadmi party, which governs Punjab and Delhi, and Trinamool Congress, which is in power in the eastern state of West Bengal.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi described next year's election as "a fight between Narendra Modi and INDIA."
United challenge against Modi's BJP
Zoya Hasan, a political scientist, said that "it is an extremely significant political development."
"The statement issued by these parties offers an alternative narrative anchored in the constitutional idea of India based on secular democracy, economic sovereignty, social justice, and federalism," she told DW.
Hasan said that it will be tough for the BJP to win a majority of seats in parliament in the next elections "if the opposition parties can sustain the momentum."
But the expert pointed out that the new alliance has its work cut out for it.
"INDIA cannot just limit the exercise to seat adjustment, it has to mobilize popular support for the alternative discourse," she added.
Many of the parties in the new alliance are regional rivals and have splintered at the national level. But they have now sought to set aside their differences to challenge the BJP, which remains popular and appears on course to win the next elections.
Kharge, the Congress party president, said the next meeting of the alliance would form a coordination panel and name a convenor.
It will also take up the complex issue of dividing seats for parties in the alliance to contest one-on-one against the BJP.
"The principal opposition parties are likely to adopt a new template for Mission 2024 and focus on key national issues along with the state-specific ones to take on the BJP," a prominent Congress leader told DW.
"The BJP has traditionally benefited in a triangular contest and we will be looking on a one-to-one contest."
The Congress party recently received a boost after it routed the BJP in the southern state of Karnataka in May. It hopes a united challenge by the opposition will succeed in preventing Modi from securing a third term in 2024.
How does the BJP view the new alliance?
The BJP, meanwhile, has played down the importance of the new alliance.
The party and Modi also criticized the opposition parties as opportunists and the corrupt who defamed India globally but were now trying to save their existence and their families.
The prime minister said that political alliances "built on negativity" never succeeded. "We unite the people of India, they divide the people of India, they underestimate the ordinary people of India," he said, referring to opposition parties.
"It (INDIA alliance) is a stillborn baby and even the doctors do not know how to save it. It is a desperate attempt to bring disparate groups on one platform and is compromised from the start," BJP national spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told DW.
"It will not work out. Its construct is flawed," he added.
'INDIA vs. NDA battle turns lively'
The BJP last week also celebrated nine years in power and organized a gathering of the ruling party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the first in years, to mark the coalition's 25th anniversary.
The NDA comprises 38 parties, many of which are small groups with limited presence in parts of the country. It has diminished as an alliance since Modi came to power in 2014 and was re-elected in 2019 as he led BJP to strong victories, reducing the influence of alliance partners.
But the BJP is reviving the NDA now as it does not want to leave anything to chance to win a third term, Neerja Chowdhury, a political analyst who has covered the past 10 general elections in India, told DW.
"The INDIA versus the NDA battle has suddenly become lively because the BJP is pulling out all the stops and opposition is fighting back. The optics of opposition leaders on one platform has given a psychological boost for the anti-BJP bloc," she said.
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru