Opinion: AAP-Congress Alliance Can Inject Dynamism Into The Poll Landscape

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Why should nobody trust the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) spokesperson based on what they say in a press conference? The recent announcement of seat sharing between AAP and the Congress in Delhi serves as a classic example. Both parties have agreed to contest together with a 4-3 formula, wherein AAP will contest on four seats and the Congress on three.

While this arrangement was widely expected, last week, out of nowhere, AAP's senior leader and general secretary (organisation), Sandeep Pathak, who also happens to be a Rajya Sabha member, held a press conference, wherein he stated that the Congress did not deserve to receive a single seat. He cited the party's lack of MLAs in Delhi and a limited number of councillors. Such a statement from a senior functionary of a political party engaged in serious seat-sharing talks was bizarre and could have potentially soured relations between the two parties or led to feelings of humiliation on the part of the Congress. However, the Congress ultimately accepted the arrangement, albeit reluctantly.

AAP's Hallmark

Brinkmanship has become the hallmark of AAP, which has developed a new technique that's akin to guerrilla warfare. However, for a party that was once considered a viable alternative to the Congress at the national level and currently governs two states, a more mature approach is expected, especially when engaging in serious discussions with other political entities. The single statement made by Pathak could have sparked animosity between the two parties. If AAP was indeed serious about its stance, it would not have conceded three seats to the Congress. The question arises: why did AAP exhibit such magnanimity? Did it backtrack on its earlier statement, or was it not serious about it to begin with? Such inconsistencies raise doubts about the reliability of AAP's statements and the likelihood of it reneging on them.

Despite the discomfort it may cause among the AAP leadership, the reality remains that the party faces a crisis of credibility and trust in political circles. Senior political figures from other parties have privately expressed their scepticism towards AAP's statements, indicating a lack of belief in them unless backed by concrete actions. One senior leader went as far as to suggest that AAP either exhibits naivety or has mastered the art of deception. In his view, AAP is far from naive; instead, it perceives the external world as gullible while considering itself the shrewdest. Trust forms the foundation of politics, even among adversaries. Yet, AAP seems to have none of it. Consequently, its words are always taken with a pinch of salt, which ultimately damages the party and undermines its credibility in the long run.

Why AAP Should Introspect

It's worth remembering that under the leadership of Sheila Dixit, the Congress governed Delhi for three consecutive terms, during which she transformed the city. However, while the Congress is virtually absent in the assembly and MCD elections today, it remains a relevant force in parliamentary elections. In the 2019 general elections, despite Arvind Kejriwal's leadership and AAP's sweeping victory in the assembly elections, the party only secured 18% of the votes, compared to the Congress's 22%. The BJP, on the other hand, dominated with 56% of the votes, winning all seven seats. This pattern underscores the fact that Delhi's voters do not view AAP as a serious contender in national elections. It's surprising that a party that has won two assembly elections by a significant margin is not perceived as a serious national player in its own stronghold, and AAP should reflect on this seriously. Against this backdrop, Pathak's statement appears casual, lacking substance and credibility.

AAP's landslide victory in the 2020 assembly elections with 62 seats was indeed commendable, yet it faced challenges in the subsequent MCD elections. Would AAP fighting alone have made a difference in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? There was the possibility of history repeating itself, with AAP staring at a whitewash once again. Today, the party finds itself significantly weakened. Unlike in previous general elections, AAP is now grappling with serious corruption allegations, most importantly the liquor scam, which has tarnished its reputation as a party advocating for clean governance. While it's acknowledged that the central government might be misusing the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other agencies to discredit opposition parties, the allegations against AAP seem serious. The recent exposé regarding the renovation of the Delhi Chief Minister's bungalow has inflicted more damage than the liquor scam.

A Controversy And An Irony

It's ironic that AAP, prior to assuming power, criticised other political parties and leaders for residing in lavish bungalows and instead advocated for modest living arrangements. Now, the same AAP leadership allegedly spent Rs. 46 crore on the renovation of the CM's bungalow. This raises serious questions about their anti-corruption rhetoric. The visual symbolism of the opulent "sheesh Mahal", as a news channel chose to call it, has resonated more with the public than the liquor scam, leaving a lasting impression.

Arvind Kejriwal's failure to appear before the ED also undermines his credibility. During the Anna Movement, leaders boldly declared their willingness to face imprisonment. While several top AAP leaders have endured jail time, Kejriwal's avoidance of ED summons raises suspicions. His reluctance to confront the agency directly and instead seek refuge in court suggests an attempt to evade scrutiny, prompting questions about what he might be concealing. AAP, once the epitome of a revolutionary movement aimed at systemic change, should ensure that Kejriwal leads by example, even if it means facing imprisonment.

Why AAP Needs Support

Today, AAP finds itself in a position where it needs the support of the Congress and other parties more than ever. It cannot confront Modi's juggernaut alone or withstand the relentless pressure from government agencies. This underscores the necessity for opposition parties to unite in the face of adversity, as division will only lead to defeat.

AAP's vulnerability in Delhi has never been more apparent, with the Lieutenant-Governor initiating inquiries against the Kejriwal government regularly and agencies like the ED relentlessly pursuing investigations. With two top leaders behind bars, the absence of credible leadership further weakens the party's position. AAP's future hangs precariously in the balance, necessitating introspection and strategic planning for the way forward.

What's Needed For A Long Run

In this context, AAP must demonstrate its seriousness as a political player with a long-term vision. Its leaders must exhibit maturity and depth to earn the trust of other parties, particularly in Kejriwal's absence. The alliance with the Congress represents a step in the right direction, albeit inevitable given the circumstances. Even in the 2019 elections, both parties engaged in seat distribution talks, though an agreement couldn't be reached due to AAP deeming the Congress's demand for three seats excessive.

Now, after five years, AAP appears to have reconciled to the existential reality. The effectiveness of this alliance in challenging the Modi juggernaut remains to be seen. While the outcome in terms of the BJP's electoral performance remains uncertain, it's certain that the AAP-Congress alliance will inject dynamism into the electoral landscape.

(Ashutosh is the author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.