After keeping everyone guessing for nearly a month, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Saturday announced its support for the joint Opposition’s candidate Yashwant Sinha in the July 18 Presidential election, infusing some energy in the dispirited Opposition camp whose presidential campaign had seemed to be unravelling.
The Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor, Arvind Kejriwal, chaired a meeting of the 11-member AAP Political Affairs Committee (PAC), the party’s highest decision-making body, at his residence during the day, where it was decided that the AAP’s MLAs and MPs will vote for Sinha for the President’s post.
On June 21, after declaring Sinha’s candidature, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s supremo Sharad Pawar had told reporters that the AAP, despite staying away from the Opposition’s meetings on the issue, will back the former Union minister in the Presidential poll. The Kejriwal-led party, however, chose not to reveal its cards till the eleventh hour. In fact, when Sinha visited Chandigarh earlier this week as part of his whirlwind tour across states for his campaign, he did not have any meeting with the AAP’s Punjab MLAs, which kept the suspense alive.
“The AAP will contest the Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year, where the BJP is in power and the Congress is the principal Opposition. It made no sense for the party to give a handle to the Congress to whip up the narrative that AAP is BJP’s B-team,” a senior AAP leader told The Indian Express.
The AAP is, however, also mindful of the symbolism projected by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led NDA’s Presidential nominee Droupadi Murmu, who is set to become the country’s first-ever tribal occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. So while announcing the decision to support Sinha’s candidature, the party leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Sanjay Singh, sought to address this aspect of the Presidential contest too.
“We have respect for the BJP’s candidate Droupadi Murmu as well, but in the election we will support the Opposition’s Presidential face,” Singh told reporters after the PAC’s meeting that was also attended by Manish Sisodia, Atishi, Durgesh Pathak and Raghav Chadha, among other senior AAP leaders. Singh had met Pawar In Mumbai ahead of the Opposition parties’ first joint meeting last month.
In the Opposition camp, the AAP is the only party besides the Congress that has its government in more than one state. The ruling party in Delhi and Punjab, the AAP accounts for nearly 1.96 per cent votes in the Presidential electoral college. The value of the votes of the party’s 10 Rajya Sabha MPs is 7,000, while its MLAs from Delhi (62), Punjab (92) and Goa (2) bring a collective vote value of 14,308 in the Presidential poll.
The AAP’s pledge to support Sinha would ensure he gets over 4 lakh votes, even as Murmu is comfortably poised to sail through the election by expectedly garnering at least 6.60 lakh votes.
Even in 2017, when the AAP ruled only Delhi and was the principal Opposition in Punjab, the party had declared its support for the then Congress-led Opposition’s Presidential candidate Meira Kumar just three days before the election. However, the Congress had kept the AAP away from the meetings of 17 Opposition parties, where Kumar’s name was decided.
This time, although the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the NCP steered these Opposition deliberations, the AAP stayed away from them despite being invited. AAP sources attributed it to the party’s “discomfort” in sharing any common platform with the Congress. It also does want to be seen being led by parties like the TMC, which is also looking to occupy the space being vacated by a drifting Congress in a bid to emerge as the principal challenger to the BJP in national politics.
“The AAP has made it abundantly clear through its moves that politically it wants to grow by strengthening the perception that it is different from others. Being a part of large groups with no shared values except opposing the BJP does not help the AAP,” the source said.
The AAP has also attended the Opposition’s joint events in the past, though. In 2018, Kejriwal was among the top Opposition leaders who attended the swearing-in ceremony of Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy as the Karnataka CM with the Congress as his senior ally.
Kejriwal was also present at a TMC-organised joint Opposition rally in Kolkata in 2019. In February 2019, the AAP also hosted a “Save Democracy” rally at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, where Kejriwal shared dais with the Congress’s Anand Sharma, among other leaders. But the AAP’s drubbing in the 2019 general elections, during which the party had made an unsuccessful bid for an alliance with the Congress, forced its rethink on its equation with the grand old party.