An alliance of regional parties in India is working on a combined economic plan, one of its leaders said, in the latest sign that Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces an increasingly united opposition in the upcoming general election. That plan is likely to include a landmark policy floated by India's main opposition Congress party to provide the poor with a minimum income if it wins polls due by May, N Chandrababu Naidu, the politician who helped forge the common front, told Reuters in an interview.
The alliance – consisting of 23 parties that came together in a giant rally in Kolkata last month – would focus on poverty eradication, agriculture, employment and a "minimum income for every family", he added.
"So many political parties are working (on a) consensus. The farmers' crisis is the biggest issue, unemployment is the biggest issue," Naidu said. "The economy (is where) you have to concentrate". Modi's ratings have dropped to their lowest-ever level amid discontent over a lack of jobs for young people and a weak farm economy, according to an India Today poll last month.
Polls have also forecast his ruling alliance will fall short of a majority in the election, which could potentially allow a coalition of regional parties to take a shot at coming to power. However, there are questions over who could lead the opposition alliance, or whether regional parties would be open to supporting Congress chief Rahul Gandhi should his party emerge with a significant number of seats.
"A prime minister will be decided afterwards with consensus," Naidu said, ruling out selecting a figurehead before the polls. "First of all, we have to win the elections." As chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Naidu has been credited with implementing business-friendly policies that attracted firms like Microsoft to the southern state.
His Telugu Desam Party, one of the largest regional parties in India's parliament, was part of a coalition led by Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till last March when he broke away after disagreements over funding for Andhra Pradesh. Since then, he has emerged as one of the main architects of an informal alliance seeking to unseat the BJP. "I'm telling you anybody is better than Narendra Modi because he won't listen to anybody," Naidu said. "He doesn't have any comprehensive position."
(With inputs from agencies.)