NEW DELHI, India, July 14, Reuter: Leaders of seven Indian opposition parties, itching for a fight with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in national elections, have approved a document creating a joint front.

The leaders of mainly centralist parties met in New Delhi on Wednesday and approved a draft for formal endorsement by each party before the front is created, opposition sources said on Thursday.

They said the approval was expected early next month and an alliance to be known as National People’s Front could be formalized before the end of August.

“We have decided to create an organizational structure of the Front in Parliament but each party will maintain its own identity,” said Dinesh Goswani, a member of a regional party from the Northeastern state of Assam.

Elections to the 554seat Parliament are due by December, 1989, and opposition parties, buoyed by victories in byelections, are in a hurry to join hands to ensure they do not cut into each other’s votes. Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party suffered its most crushing defeat at his ancestral hometown of Allahabad where his former Defense and Finance Minister Vishwnath Pratap Singh won by a huge margin of more than 100,000 votes on June 16.

Singh, who has emerged as India’s top corruption fighter, was supported by all opposition parties and the victory clearly showed the Opposition would have a much better chance if it fought one on one with the Congress (I).

The Janata Party, the Lok Dal (B), Singh’ Jan Morcha group, the Congress (S) and three regional parties attended the opposition unity meeting.

Member of Parliament P. Upendra of the Telugu Desam regional party said no divisive issues were discussed at the meeting and he was very hopeful the Front would be formed.

He said there could be some legal problems in all parties using a single election symbol. Symbols are important in Indian elections as that are the only way for illiterate voters to identify parties on ballot papers.

The Opposition groups also skirted the issue of who should lead the Front and newspapers said they favored a collective leadership rather than naming an individual leader.

The Front will India’s second experiment with a united opposition fighting the ruling party. In 1947, several groups merged to form the Janata Party which trounced Prime Minister Indra Gandhi.

Article extracted from this publication >> July 22, 1988