NEW DELHI • Indian opposition parties have joined forces to snatch power from the country's ruling party in a big southern state, laying the stage for other such alliances in a direct challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's re-election bid next year.
A coalition of Congress and a regional group said yesterday they will establish a government in Karnataka state next week, after Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to prove its majority despite bagging more seats than any other party in a closely fought election.
Mr Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress party - which has struggled to make any major political inroads since Mr Modi stormed to power four years ago - said his party will rally regional groups into a common front against Mr Modi.
"I am very proud that the opposition has stood together and defeated the BJP, and we will continue to do so," said Mr Gandhi.
Karnataka, with a population of 66 million, was the first major state this year to elect an assembly, and will be followed by three more states before the general election next year.
Political strategists say polls in Karnataka - home to India's "Silicon Valley", Bengaluru - were seen as a key test of Mr Modi's popularity, but the final outcome highlights that the threats he faces from a united opposition are much bigger than anticipated.
"Formation of this coalition is a platform for an anti-BJP alliance for the next year," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist at Bengaluru's Jain University.
"Any shortfall in other states will further consolidate anti-BJP forces."
Last week, Karnataka's state governor allowed Mr Modi's party to form a government, even as it became clear that with only 104 seats, the BJP trailed the opposition alliance, which has at least 115 seats in the 225-member assembly. That decision prompted Mr Modi's rivals to turn to the Supreme Court.
The governor gave the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, but the court ordered a vote of confidence in the assembly on Saturday. Even before that could take place, BJP's newly appointed state chief minister, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa, resigned.
To bring the regional party Janata Dal (Secular) into the alliance, Congress, which has 78 of the seats, did have to concede the chief minister's job to the smaller group. Previously, the state had been held by Congress.
In an apparent show of strength against Mr Modi, most opposition leaders have been invited for the upcoming swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka's new chief minister, Mr H.D. Kumaraswamy, said Mr Sanjay Jha, Congress' national spokesman.
Mr Jha said Congress' spirit ahead of the 2019 polls was that of "necessary political accommodation" when it comes to forming alliances to stop Mr Modi.
BJP leader Seshadri Chari said no opposition alliance will be able to stop Mr Modi. "BJP will emerge as the single largest party (in 2019) with a majority," he added.
Mr Modi remains by far the most popular politician in India and his approval rankings far outweigh Mr Gandhi, who is the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
United States-based research agency Pew released a survey in November that showed nearly nine out of 10 Indians held a favourable opinion of Mr Modi.
Yesterday, Indian newspapers carried front-page headlines highlighting Mr Modi's loss.
"BJP loses vote of overconfidence," said the headline on The Indian Express newspaper's front page.