AAP and Congress fail test in chemistry

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Sometime in September last year, talks of a ‘remarriage’ started with the presence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh at Rajghat to participate in the ‘Bharat Bandh’ called by the Congress against the petroleum price hike.

At that time, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party had insisted that the mere presence of Singh should not be seen as support for the Congress. Still, the tantalising possibility of an AAP-Congress electoral alliance prior to the Lok Sabha polls had political observers salivating for months.

It ended on Tuesday, when Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit poured the proverbial cold water, saying, “We have unanimously decided that we will not have an alliance with the AAP.” She had supposedly met Congress president Rahul Gandhi and got his blessings for the ‘lone ranger’ strategy.

Within hours, Kejriwal hit out at the Congress, tweeting: “At a time when the whole country wants to defeat Modi-Shah duo, Congress is helping BJP by splitting anti-BJP vote.”

‘SEAT’ OF THE PROBLEM

While the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections indicated that the Congress was virtually wiped out from the National Capital, the Grand Old Party saw a jump in its vote share in the 2017 municipal polls, according Election Commission of India data. The BJP might have had won the election, but the cumulative vote share of the AAP and the Congress, at 47%, was way ahead of the BJP’s 36%. Polling data further suggests that the combined vote share of the AAP and the Congress in six of the seven Lok Sabha seats of Delhi is more than that of the BJP.

However, what played spoilsport this time was Kejriwal and his party leaders insisting on a lion’s share of seats in the Capital, leaving the Congress with a mere consolation prize. Insiders told Mail Today that the Congress had offered a ‘3+3+1’ model-three seats each for both the parties and one for a celebrity. The AAP junked this, wanting six seats in Delhi and four in Punjab, besides Chandigarh. It offered the Congress one seat in Delhi, with Haryana and Goa open to negotiations. “The bone of contention was seat-sharing. How can a party with zero assembly seats in Delhi get three seats for Lok Sabha polls?” asked an AAP leader.

THE KEJRIWAL CONUNDRUM

Many in the Congress, including senior leaders, are averse to sharing the burden of anti-incumbency against the government headed by Arvind Kejriwal. They said Kejriwal cannot be considered a “dependable” partner given his “unpredictable” past record. “We trusted him (Kejriwal) in 2013. And he resigned without even taking us into confidence,” said a leader of Delhi Congress. “Also, we do not want to take a risk with the Assembly Elections just a few months away in 2020,” the leader added.

In 2013, with 28 out of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly, Kejriwal’s AAP formed a minority government with the Congress’s outside support. The government could, however, not last more than 49 days owing to disagreements within the two parties.

Last week, the Aam Aadmi Party announced candidates for six of the seven Lok Sabha seats, a move that the BJP which holds all seven seats at present –termed as a way of forcing the Congress into a tieup. “Get well Mr Kejriwal. The Congress also knows that the BJP will win hands down, alliance or not,” said BJP’s Delhi unit president Manoj Tiwari.

NO PASS MARK IN CHEMISTRY

Seat-sharing formulas and arithmetic apart, the chemistry (or the lack of it) between the two parties has also played a role. The Delhi Congress’ assertive attitude, many leaders said, came from an increase in vote share after the 2017 municipal polls and the appointment of three-time Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its head. The Congress had put up stellar shows in Delhi under her leadership in the 1998, 2003 and 2008 Assembly Elections, and also in the 2004 and 2009 general elections.

“AAP rose while the Congress diminished in Delhi. The party that was in power for 15 years polled just 15 per cent votes in 2014 while AAP had 33 per cent. Congress’ share was 57 per cent in 2009. This is also one of the reasons why we do not want to work with them (AAP),” another Congress leader said.

That apart, Kejriwal and Dikshit have been at cross-purposes for a long time. Before he became the chief minister of Delhi, Kejriwal had in 2011 accused Dikshit, the then CM, of indulging in corruption while awarding Commonwealth Games-related projects.

In fact, the very seed of AAP lay in virulent anti-Congressism. When he resigned as CM of the minority government in 2013, Kejriwal alleged the Congress opposed the Jan Lokpal Bill because he had acted against the “corruption” of Sheila Dikshit by filing cases against her. In February 2014, Kejriwal wrote to then President of India Pranab Mukherjee seeking a probe against Dikshit for her alleged role in the CWG and street-lighting scams.

Experts have suggested that the tie-up would have worked for both the parties since they compete for support from within the same socio-economic sections — people living in unauthorised colonies and Purvanchalis (people from eastern UP and Bihar who’ve settled in Delhi). For the BJP, the support base of traders and the upper-middle class has remained intact.

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