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Patna Meet: How is AAP-Congress Friction Likely to Impact a 'United' Opposition?

The story of AAP-Congress ties and the likelihood of the two parties coming together for a united front in 2024.

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15 political parties, 32 leaders, and talks of a 'grand' alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the Opposition's Patna meet ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections looked like an overall success. The deliberations lasted close to four hours, after which the leaders, in one voice, announced that they intend to contest the polls together.

There was, however, one minor blip as tensions escalated between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress over the ordinance promulgated by the Centre for control of services in Delhi.

While the Congress maintained that the meet was not a platform to discuss parliamentary issues such as the ordinance, the AAP insisted that it will be difficult for the party to attend any future meetings till the Congress publicly denounces the ordinance.

In this piece, we look at the history of Congress-AAP ties, possibility of the two parties coming together, and the impact of the friction between them on the grand Opposition alliance ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The story of AAP-Congress ties and the likelihood of the two parties coming together for a united front in 2024.

A joint press conference addressed by leaders of several Opposition parties after the meeting. Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann skipped the presser.

(Photo: Twitter)

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Congress' Stand on the Ordinance

On May 19, the Centre brought in an ordinance to curtail the powers of the elected government in Delhi. This was within a week of the Supreme Court's order stating that the government in Delhi can make laws and administer civil services in the state.

It is likely that the ordinance will be tabled as a Bill in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament. Looking at the numbers in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, it's almost certain that the bill will easily sail through the Lower House.

It is with the hope that the Rajya Sabha will reject the Bill, that Chief Minister Kejriwal is touring Opposition leaders across the country seeking their support on the issue.

After the Patna Opposition meet, AAP claimed that except the Congress, 11 parties with Rajya Sabha representatives announced they would oppose the ordinance in the Upper House.
The story of AAP-Congress ties and the likelihood of the two parties coming together for a united front in 2024.

Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann with Nitish Kumar in Patna.

(Photo: Twitter)

The Congress, however, is unlikely to support AAP on the issue. In several public statements so far, the Congress first said that it would consult its state unit before announcing support for Kejriwal.

Again, before the Patna meet began, party President Mallikarjun Kharge said that the meeting was to discuss the possibility of a united front against the BJP ahead of 2024 and not for parliamentary matters.

"Opposing it (ordinance) or proposing it does not happen outside, it happens in the Parliament. Before Parliament begins, all parties decide what issues they have to work on together. They (AAP) know it and even their leaders come to our all-party meetings," Kharge said.

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What Happened in Patna?

Soon after the Patna meet concluded, the AAP released a scathing statement targeting Congress.

"The Congress, a national party that takes a stand on almost all issues, has yet to make its position on the Black Ordinance public. However, the Congress’ Delhi and Punjab units have announced that the party should support the Modi government on this issue," AAP alleged.

Before releasing this statement, Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann also skipped the joint press conference addressed by leaders of parties present at the closed door meeting.

Clarifying on the issue, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, however, said that Kejriwal and Mann had flights to catch. "Kejriwal left because he had to return to Delhi,” he said.

Even though Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin also skipped the press conference, the statement by AAP makes it hard to miss the fault lines between the two parties.

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What Does the Friction Mean for a 'United' Opposition?

The AAP currently has full-fledged presence in Delhi (seven Lok Sabha seats) and Punjab (13 Lok Sabha seats). It has made some inroads in Gujarat.

The Congress, on the other hand, is in power in Rajasthan (25 Lok Sabha seats), Chhattisgarh (11 Lok Sabha seats), Himachal Pradesh (four Lok Sabha seats), and Karnataka (28 Lok Sabha seats). The party shares power with alliance partners in Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. It is the main Opposition in several other states.

In Delhi, despite the AAP being in power for four years, BJP swept the 2019 Lok Sabha elections winning seven out of seven constituencies.

In Punjab, while AAP did not have much presence in 2019, it still won one Lok Sabha seat. The Congress won eight, while Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP won two seats each.

After an emphatic victory in the Assembly elections, AAP is expected to perform much better in Punjab. A four way contest, however, is likely to harm the Opposition more than the BJP because AAP's rise in Punjab has also come on the back of the fall of the Congress party.

AAP's performance in state Assembly elections such as Punjab and Gujarat has made it clear for top leadership that the growth of the party will come at the expense of the Congress.

Hence, it might not want to play second fiddle or a junior partner to Congress nationally.

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Tumultuous History of AAP-Congress Ties

Arvind Kejriwal and his just over a decade old party made inroads in India's political landscape through Delhi — a Congress citadel for 15 years before AAP took over. Since then, AAP has made significant gains in multiple states including Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa.

In Punjab, it overthrew a Congress government in a landslide victory in the 2022 Assembly elections. It is, hence, only logical for the Congress to dislike AAP and want the party to weaken in Delhi — the latter's stronghold for close to a decade now.

Interestingly, even though it's evident that the Congress considers the AAP a bigger enemy than the BJP in several states, the two parties have time and again come together. The Congress helped AAP form its first ever government in Delhi within days of late Sheila Dikshit losing her fortress to Arvind Kejriwal in 2013.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, an alliance between the two parties was discussed. Though again, it could not materialise.

The Congress then took the AAP's support for its Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates — Meira Kumar in 2017, and Yashwant Sinha and Margaret Alva in 2022.

Sources within the Aam Aadmi Party told The Quint that the party leadership is still confused about the equation with Congress.

"An alliance with Congress makes little sense for the party. The voter base of Congress and AAP is very similar, especially in places like Delhi. An alliance will hardly get us anything. In fact, it will give an opportunity for the BJP to make inroads," a senior party functionary in Delhi said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  AAP   BJP   Congress 

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