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Indian Communist and regional parties announced an alliance on Thursday aimed at winning national elections which begin next month.

The alliance, known as the ‘third front,’ is positioning itself as an alternative to the ruling Congress Party and its main opposition, the right-wing Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Elections in India will be held in five phases beginning in April as the current government’s five-year term draws to an end.

The new alliance was launched at a large rally in Dobbespet in the southern state of Karnataka.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat told the rally: ‘This is a historic get-together of all democratic, secular and leftist parties in the country to declare that we are all coming together to constitute a third force in this country.’

Senior leaders from other left-wing parties, including the Communist Party of India and the Forward Bloc, and regional parties such as the Telugu Desam Party from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, joined the launch of the new alliance.

The Congress Party, which was re-elected in 2004, heads a broad coalition. It was previously supported by Communist parties but lost their backing after it signed a nuclear co-operation pact with the US.

The Congress government’s major accomplishment, which is India’s rapid economic growth over the last few years, has been hit by the global economic crisis.

The BJP is also in disarray. Its leadership is ageing and fragmented and its anti-terror line was criticised as being too harsh in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Support for the two main parties has also been eroded by regional parties focused on local or caste-based issues.

Dalit – or untouchable – caste politician Mayawati has stated her ambition to be the next prime minister and her Bahujan Samaj Party has won control of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

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