CONGRESS-AAP ALLIANCE REMAINS UNCERTAIN

Kushal Jeena

The possibility of a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party if comes up ahead of upcoming general elections could become a formidable grouping that could uproot the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in national capital of Delhi and Punjab. But so far it looks like distant prospect.

The two north Indian states send altogether 20 lawmakers to the lower House of Parliament.

The statistics of the votes polled by the three parties in Delhi in 2014 reveals the BJP could face reverses in the national capital if the AAP and Congress join hands.

With few months left, the countdown for Lok Sabha elections has begun and discussions are on and strategies are being laid out across the political spectrum. In Delhi alone the combine vote share of both the AAP and Congress was much more than of the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections

Delhi and Punjab are two states where reports of an alliance between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have made the equation more interesting. Riding on the Modi wave in 2014, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had registered a thumping win, bagging all Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

However, political situation has changed a lot political acrimony between two major opposition players Congress and AAP in the Punjab and Delhi has reduced to a significant level and both now realize that if they continue to fight separately, the BJP could be ultimate beneficiary. Hence, they have been talking of forging alliance.

The scenario got changed in the 2017 municipal elections when the AAP and the Congress had collectively garnered 47.32 percent of the total votes compared with 36.08 percent vote share of the BJP. Congress’ vote share rose to 21.28 percent this time around, while the AAP bagged around 26 percent — less than half of what the party got in 2015 Assembly polls.

The decrease in the AAP’s vote-share during the 2017 municipal elections is considered to be a major reason for AAP to forge an alliance with the Congress. Many surveys conducted in the recent past have also pointed towards the decrease in AAP and Congress’s vote shares in comparison to that of the BJP that has remained static.

“The voting pattern of different socio-economic categories in Delhi, established this realignment of caste groups. The upper caste voters who had largely voted for the Congress in 2009 did not favor the party in 2014, resulting in a dip of 38 percentage points of Congress’s vote share among them.

On the other hand, the BJP consolidated its position among the Upper Castes by securing a staggering 62 percent of their votes — an increase of 15 percentage points from the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and a 22 percentage point increase as compared to the 2013 assembly elections,” pointed out a study that National Election Study, an independent body that deals with the election process had conducted.

The Congress also suffered huge electoral drubbings as only 11 percent among other backward cast voted for the grand old party, whereas the BJP secured 48 percent in this segment of electorate. This caste-based voter preference can further force the Congress and the AAP to join hands together to tackle the BJP in the capital.

“A potential alliance with the AAP would be disastrous for the party in the capital in the long run. The issue is that of the big picture. If we were to ally with the AAP in Delhi ahead of 2019, it would spell disaster for the party. The impact on the party cadre would be very negative and because of some short-term gain, we would decimate the party’s presence in Delhi,” said a former Congress Member of Parliament from Delhi who wanted his identity not to be disclosed.

Another top city Congress leader who has close proximity with former three-time chief minister of national capital and current head of the party Sheila Dikshit, differs from this view. “The issue is complicated.

There is a definite advantage ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. If the Congress and AAP votes were to combine, we would effectively be able to keep the BJP out everywhere in the capital. That is seven seats,” he said.

Similarly, there is no dearth within the AAP who are averse to the idea of an alliance between the new political entrant and India’s grand old party to fight joint elections in at least two states. “Right now, neither the BJP nor the Congress has really started campaigning. On the other hand, we have been campaigning since before the winters. But it is not simple.

For instance, what seats do we give? Our candidates have been campaigning for a long time now on all seats. So which seats do we give up,” said Gopal Rai, a senior AAP leader.

“Even if the seat sharing can be figured out, the party will have to take a decision on whether or not AAP is giving up entirely on Punjab because that is what an alliance with Congress would mean,” said another AAP leader

Meanwhile, in a significant political development the Congress president Rahul Gandhi had called a meeting of all leaders of Delhi unit recently to discuss the possibility of an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party for the upcoming elections. The move comes after the Arvind Kejriwal-led party announced its candidates on six of seven seats in Delhi. In the meeting Gandhi held talks over whether or not the Congress should go ahead with the alliance. Earlier, the Congress top brass had given its
nod to initiating alliance talks with AAP, but there was stiff resistance from the Delhi unit of the party, which wanted to contest alone.

The AAP had been sending feelers to the Congress leadership for a pre-poll tie-up for quite a while, but was rebuffed.

“We are tired of convincing the Congress to form an alliance, but they do not understand. If there is an alliance, the BJP will lose all the seven Lok Sabha seats it currently has in Delhi. “I don’t know what they have in their minds,” Delhi chief minister Arvind said in a rally.

Opposition leaders such as TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, at a meeting held at NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s house, had also urged Gandhi to forge an alliance with AAP in Delhi but convincing the Delhi unit of the Congress, led by former CM Sheila Dikshit, proved tricky. Several opposition leaders feel the need of the hour is to put up a well-knit front, where parties that are partners at the national level also join hands in the states in the national election.

“Alliances are the prerogative of the central party leadership, not ours,” the chief minister said, making it clear that he and the state unit of the party will go with the high command’s decision on alliances. A Congress minister in the state government said political analysts must understand the need of the central leadership of the party to have such a pact. “The fact is that Rahul Gandhi needs a larger number of MPs, a higher vote share, a perception that all and sundry are ready to align and work with him. An AAP-Congress tie up has immense potential for creating such a perception,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party has also decided to test its electoral fortunes in Maharashtra also where is currently engaged in seat-sharing formula with some regional outfits.

“We will fight all seats in Mumbai and on a few seats in the rest of Maharashtra after forging alliance with like-minded parties. We are working on a seat sharing formula and it will be finalized shortly,” said Brigadier (retired) Sudhir Sawant.

“We are not desperate to fight the election, but will definitely fight in those seats where we can play a role in defeating BJP candidates. Our main objective is to stop BJP from winning,” he said.

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