HomeLatest NewsIndia’s opposition leader begins cross-country march ahead of elections

India’s opposition leader begins cross-country march ahead of elections

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi set off on a 6,700 km “Unite India” march across the nation in an attempt to challenge the electoral hold of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, months before the national polls get underway.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is heading for general elections in April and May, when more than 600 million people will choose their government for the next five years.

The two-month trek by Gandhi, grandson of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, is the second nationwide march he has undertaken to promote unity across India, after his first was widely credited for the party’s electoral success in the state of Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana in early 2023.

He is set to travel on foot and by bus across 15 states that send 355 members to parliament out of the total 545, starting from the eastern state of Manipur and ending in Maharashtra in the west.

“Governance infrastructure has failed in Manipur; shameful that PM (Narendra) Modi hasn’t visited the state,” Gandhi said on Sunday as he began his march.

“We are going through a period of great injustice in India. It is of all kinds — social, political and economical.”

Manipur, one of India’s most volatile states, was chosen as a starting point, as the Congress party highlighted how Modi stayed silent even after months of intense ethnic violence resulting in hundreds of deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands people in the BJP-governed state.

“The prime minister has refused to speak a word or visit Manipur for more than eight months since violence erupted here. Does the prime minister not consider Manipur to be a part of India?” Congress party parliament member Jairam Ramesh said on X.

“While India is the largest democracy in the world right now, it has turned into a one-man show. The march is aimed at strengthening democracy and the democratic institutions of the country.”

Congress, which currently holds just 55 seats in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house, is up against the electoral hold of BJP, which has over 300 seats.

Last year, more than two dozen parties formed a coalition called INDIA — short for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance — ahead of this year’s polls.

Congress and other opposition parties have been scrambling to challenge the BJP after Modi and his party were elected in 2014 and later consolidated power in 2019 polls.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based writer and political analyst, was skeptical of the march’s effectiveness.

“I don’t know how successful it’s going to be because this is the march of one party and one leader,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.

“I am not very optimistic of this having a positive electoral benefit in the parliamentary elections.”

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