AAP & Cong Say ‘No Alliance’ in Delhi, But Deliberations Still On?
Sources within both parties suggest that deliberations are still on, and that the calling off “may not be final”.
On a day when the Congress announced that a prospective alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party had fallen through, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal fell back on an all-too-familiar conspiracy theory, tweeting that the Congress had a “secret understanding” with the BJP. But though the alliance seems to have ended before it was even finalised, sources within both the Congress and AAP suggest to The Quint that deliberations are still ongoing, and that this “calling off may not be final”.
So, what really is going on – what are the sticky points and backroom considerations preventing (or promoting) an alliance between the two parties? Why was the alliance “called off” if talks were to continue? And how is the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and consequent India-Pakistan escalation weighing on these deliberations?
The Opposition to Opposition Unity in Delhi
The Congress leadership is under pressure from national allies such as TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, TMC’s Mamata Banerjee and NCP’s Sharad Pawar to forge an alliance with Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party, whom they argue would be an important addition to the mahagathbandan.
But the Delhi unit of the Congress party remains the most strongly opposed stakeholder, with former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, who is also the Delhi unit chief, leading the charge against a tie-up with AAP. Ajay Maken, who led the Delhi unit of the party till Dikshit’s return, had initially voiced his opinions against tying up with AAP, but is believed to have adopted a more amenable position later. But with Dikshit in charge, the message from the Delhi Congress to the party leadership and Rahul Gandhi was clear: “We are not in favour of an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party.”
Speaking to NDTV after the alliance was called off, Dikshit said, “It is final that there will be no alliance with AAP. Mr Gandhi has accepted the decision.” Her statement clearly indicated that the push against the alliance came from the Delhi unit and that the national leadership had been more open to the idea of joining hands with AAP.
Here are the reasons that were offered against the alliance.
- The Congress believes that those who are committed BJP voters will not swing away from the party, especially in the aftermath of Pulwama and the presence of India-Pakistan tensions. But it hopes that the anti-incumbency against the AAP government, which has been in power in Delhi since February 2015, will swing votes towards Congress instead - the logic being that disgruntled AAP voters will rather migrate to the Congress than the BJP.
- Additionally, the Delhi Congress does not want to cede space to AAP, because there is a worry that once that is done, the Congress will be set on a path of decline in the city which it might not be able to recover from. Some fear that ceding space right now will shrink the party’s presence in the city and subsequently dent the party’s fortunes in the 2020 Assembly elections in Delhi as well, a situation that Delhi Congress leaders are not enthused about.
- According to a Congress insider, Sheila Dikshit’s loyalists within the Delhi Congress unit, who are hopeful of Lok Sabha tickets, are against the alliance also because a tie-up would mean that the grand old party would be left to contest in only a couple, or at most three, seats out of seven, reducing their individual prospects.
Alliance Hopes Still Alive?
A senior Congress leader told The Quint, “Sheila ji has said what she has said, and that is the sentiment emerging from the Delhi unit. But one thing to remember is that there are no full stops in politics – there can be pauses or commas, but there is no full stop. Tomorrow is a new morning. Let’s wait and watch – it’s an emerging situation.”
The admission between the lines was clear enough - efforts are still on to bring the two parties to a pre-poll alliance. Central to the continuing efforts is an understanding within both parties that the BJP is likely to get a boost in its electoral prospects in the aftermath of the air strikes in Pakistan and given its aggressive posturing and propaganda on national security.
‘Pulwama Has Changed Things’
A source within the Congress reasons, “Modi’s actions post Pulwama have been viewed positively by a lot of people. So, the Opposition has little choice but to unite.” It is clear that the Pulwama attack and the chain of events that followed has altered a lot of political equations.
“Now, everybody has to get together”, a senior Congress leader stresses, echoing the sentiment. “Pulwama led to a change of narrative, it has changed the goalposts.”
Within AAP too, a similar sense prevails. A party insider puts it bluntly, “We have been saying it from the beginning. If AAP and Congress contest separately, without an alliance, it will be difficult to beat the BJP, and even more so after Pulwama.”
AAP Miffed, but Amenable
Both Congress and AAP sources have no qualms in admitting that AAP had shown flexibility in the negotiations and was keen to form an alliance. Even though AAP had announced candidates for six out of the seven Lok Sabha seats a couple of days ago, AAP sources say that the party was more than willing to withdraw its candidates from a couple of those seats. “We began by asking for a 5-2 split, with 5 seats for AAP and 2 for Congress. But that would obviously have come down to at least a 4-3 split.”
There was also speculation of a 3-3-1 ratio, with one seat going to a big-name independent candidate supported by both parties, but both AAP and Congress representatives declined to comment if this was the case or who the independent in mind was if such a situation was indeed being considered.
As of now, the strong disinterest shown by Sheila Dikshit towards an alliance seems to have left Arvind Kejriwal quite miffed, with the Delhi CM tweeting, “At a time when the whole country wants to defeat Modi- Shah duo, Cong is helping BJP by splitting anti-BJP vote.”
This round seems to have gone the way of three-time former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit. Whether the equation stays this way, or whether Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party leadership decide to call off the “calling off” and announce a tie-up for the seven seats in Delhi, is a script we haven’t seen the end of.
For now, what is sure is that though the alliance is officially not on anymore, the talks are not off just yet.
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