The Congress-AAP alliance is over with Rahul Gandhi exhorting party cadres to win all seven seats
For all practical purposes, alliance talks between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi have dissipated into thin air, striking a crucial blow to the entire Opposition front at a time when it is recalibrating its pitch for the general elections in the face of a nationalist surge set off by the ruling BJP. It seems the Congress is yet to reconcile its long-term prospects with short-term expediency, considering the grand old party has had its influence in the city for decades and hopes to rebuild itself in the power capital than cede its base completely to others because of a poor showing in 2014. However, the Congress must remember that the AAP is more than just a disruptor. It came second in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, won the state elections subsequently and reduced the Congress to a rump from the high of a seven-seat win in 2009. In the process, 2014 in Delhi was a clean sweep by the BJP. The AAP has only consolidated its hold in Delhi as a State Government that has delivered on its promises and the Congress cannot wish it away despite bringing back old warhorse Sheila Dikshit at the helm. Besides, its voteshare is progressively going up. AAP insiders indicate that since the party came second in all seven seats in 2014, it was not willing to give more than two seats to the Congress in Delhi — New Delhi and Chandni Chowk — while extending benefits in Haryana and Goa. The Congress, however, wanted at least three seats. Now that the AAP has announced candidates from six seats, more like a pressure tactic, the Congress has decided to go it alone. And though party president Rahul Gandhi has exhorted cadres to win all seven seats, it is an uphill task considering that the party does not even have a single MLA in the city. So the triangular fight again gives BJP an opportunity to go for the home run.
While the Congress understandably is worried about its larger issue of identity and stitching up its torn matrix, the problem is that in the end it appears a selfish pursuit to the voter. Even more so when the rapprochement efforts for a workable mahagathbandhan against the BJP are coming from the AAP and the Congress looks like it is entitled to its high perch. In fact, Rahul has stayed away from sharing a platform with AAP’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal until he decided to meet him for a common minimum programme meeting, egged on by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and NCP’s Sharad Pawar. AAP leaders across ranks have expressed their commitment to dethroning the BJP, saying that sole purpose guided them to partner with the Congress. They say that though the BJP’s vote share has shrunk a little from the 44 per cent it had in 2014, it won’t have as big an impact as the splitting of votes between the AAP and Congress. Even if the 2014 results are taken as a reference point, and assuming the Congress and AAP maintain their vote shares from that time, the alliance could have won six out of seven seats. So the Congress is appearing as the only spoiler while the others seem to be in mission mode. The same conundrum continues in Uttar Pradesh, the swing state for this big verdict and where BSP chief Mayawati doesn’t want a deal. Though the Congress is trying to manage seat-sharing hiccups in other states, UP yields the numbers and Delhi is notional pride. And this being a polarised election, the vote has to be en bloc than split between like-minded partners. In fact, the Congress has had a very difficult time justifying its subservience to the federal front parties, all of whom are its rivals in respective states, at the national level. It is caught between the devil and the deep sea, appear opportunist or destroyer, none of which works for its image. Then there is the contrast to the BJP, which while running away with the nationalist narrative, effectively stymieing any party from even critiquing it on this front, has consolidated its allies even better by yielding to their stridency at times. And now with NCP chief Sharad Pawar also out of the electoral race in Maharashtra, the Congress has got to rescue itself or risk being called the architect of a mahamilawat.