India opposition rallies against Modi government ahead of elections

Congress leaders address 'Save Democracy' rally and accuse Prime Minister of 'match-fixing' national vote

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi speaks during the INDIA alliance rally in Delhi. EPA
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India’s main opposition bloc held a demonstration against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in the capital New Delhi ahead, with national elections to begin in April.

The INDIA bloc, consisting of nearly two dozen parties, is challenging Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners in the elections to Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.

The opposition bloc has accused the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP of threatening democracy in India by embarking on a crackdown against its political rivals.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to vote in the seven-phase poll, which begins on April 19 and ends on June 1, with results expected on June 4.

Many political commentators have predicted a victory for Mr Modi’s party, riding on his popularity and the rise of Hindu nationalism, which he and his party have endorsed since coming to power in 2014.

But his political rivals say the incumbent government is misusing state institutions to weaken the democratic process and manipulate elections.

Sunday’s “Save Democracy” demonstration at Delhi’s Ramlila ground was one of the largest public shows of strength by the opposition following the arrest of the Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal and the freezing of funds of India’s main opposition Indian National Congress.

Mr Kejriwal was arrested earlier this month after he was accused of receiving kickbacks in the process of bringing a now-scrapped alcohol policy to the Indian capital, a charge he and his party have denied.

He has since been in the custody of India's financial police. Opposition parties have questioned the motive and the timing of the arrest in the years-old case.

Mr Kejriwal’s wife Sunita addressed crowds of thousands at the opposition rally on Sunday. The rally was also attended by leaders from the Indian National Congress, which is one of the central parties in the INDIA bloc, including the party president Mallikarjun Kharge, leader Rahul Gandhi, and former party president Sonia Gandhi.

Regional leaders from Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Jharkhand chief minister Champai Soren, former Maharashtra chief minister Uddav Thackeray, and former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti among other leaders also addressed the crowds.

The opposition leaders have accused Mr Modi of using federal investigative agencies against political rivals to intimidate and weaken them.

Last month, the federal tax authorities froze the bank accounts of the Indian National Congress, followed by a tax demand of $216 million over alleged violations.

“The nation knows they have used [India's Enforcement Directorate], and [Central Bureau of Investigation] to extort donations. To suppress this, false cases are being imposed on opposition leaders," said Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

“If you are so confident of crossing 400 [Lok Sabha seats in polls], why are you scared of Aam Aadmi Party leaders?”

Mr Gandhi on Sunday said that Mr Modi was trying to “win the election through match-fixing” and asserted that the coming elections were significant to “protect the Constitution” and the country.

“Narendra Modi wants to change the Constitution by winning elections through 'match-fixing' … this election is not just an election to form a government, it is an election to save the country, an election to protect the Constitution,” said Mr Gandhi.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 10:59 AM