At the Save Democracy Satyagraha rally in Delhi on February 13, the presence of Congress leader Anand Sharma had raised eyebrows, even among those from the Aam Aadmi Party which organised the rally. They weren’t expecting a representative from the Congress, a party whose sinking graph in the Capital had coincided with the AAP’s spectacular rise in 2015.
The dinner meeting at NCP president Sharad Pawar’s house that followed the rally put AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the same room as Congress president Rahul Gandhi, leading once again to talk of a pre-poll alliance between the two parties in Delhi for the Lok Sabha elections. After the meeting, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters that the parties present at the meeting were working on a pre-poll alliance.
Watch video: Show of Opposition’s strength at ‘Save Democracy’ rally
Senior AAP leaders, who were in talks with the Congress for an alliance for over three months, seemed hopeful. The next day, however, Kejriwal said at a press conference that the Congress had made it almost clear it would have no truck with the AAP in the Delhi. The AAP chief added that he was keen on an alliance out of “concern” for the country.
Kejriwal’s remarks once again underlined the many challenges in the path to a “pre-poll alliance” between the Congress and AAP.
According to sources in the AAP privy to the talks, the biggest sticking point for the party, which has a strong presence in Delhi but a limited role elsewhere, is the open hostility with the Congress in the Capital.
Over the past two months, the AAP has called the Congress a “vote-cutter” that is not capable of winning, and the Delhi Congress has accused the AAP of “misleading people” and of making promises they did not keep.
Even on February 14, the day the Supreme Court ruled that the Anti-Corruption Branch, which was under the Delhi Government till 2015, will continue to remain with the Centre, AAP leader Saurabh Bhardwaj tweeted, “Ask Modiji when Sheila Dikshit will go to jail. Ask him everyday.” This was in reference to the AAP’s promise that it would send the former CM to jail over allegations of corruption in Delhi Jal Board.
Top AAP sources told The Indian Express that Rahul Gandhi had told Kejriwal that the Delhi Congress was against any alliance with the AAP in Delhi. It is learnt that the Congress’s Delhi unit has told Rahul that the party’s vote share in the Capital has been rising since the low of 2015, when it was voted out of power. In the 2015 Assembly elections, the AAP’s vote share was 54.3 per cent, largely owing to the crash in the Congress’s vote share to 9.8 per cent. However, in the 2017 municipal polls, the Congress’s share rose to 21.09 per cent while the AAP got 26.23 per cent of the votes.
“They want an alliance in Delhi because they won’t be able to win a single seat without our support. We have improved tremendously and Dikshit’s popularity will help us more,” said a senior Delhi Congress leader.
The AAP, however, says vote share is irrelevant for the Lok Sabha elections. “It is clear that if the Congress does not agree to an alliance in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, votes will get split and the BJP will win again. What is the point of the Congress trying to increase its vote share?” said a senior party leader. In fact, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP swept all the seven seats in Delhi, its vote share was below the Congress and AAP combined in all but one seat.
But the Congress remains distrustful of the AAP. Despite having been at the receiving end of relentless criticism from the current crop of AAP leaders during their days of the Jan Lokpal activism, it had lent outside support to the first AAP government in 2013. The arrangement had ended in 49 days after Kejriwal quit over the Congress’s “non-cooperation” over the Jan Lokpal Bill.
But it is not the Delhi Congress alone that is against an alliance. Several senior AAP leaders have repeatedly said an alliance with would be disastrous for the party in the Delhi Assembly elections, expected early next year.
“We have shown we can govern effectively despite hostility. If we ally with the Congress for the Lok Sabha, how will we go to the people for the Assembly polls and bash the Congress again?” said a top party leader.