Strange bed-fellows: Can AAP and Congress join hands ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls?
There are reports of a possible poll arrangement between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, two sworn enemies till now, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. These reports have sent political pundits in a tizzy making them work on the pros and cons of this till now hypothetical idea. Reports say that not only in Delhi but this arrangement could extend to Punjab and Haryana as well. What would this mean for both these parties and why there is a compulsion emerging for such kind of a political tie up? The old adage of 'politics makes strange bedfellows' appears to justified in the present times.
A simple answer for this comes from Professor Manjeet Singh who was among the founders of the phenomenon called AAP in Punjab and later left the ranks along with the senior leaders like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav. He says, “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has brought things to a pass that whatever looked impossible till now is becoming possible. The ideological lines stand blurred and are fading fast. Who would have thought ahead of the recent Karnataka polls that Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress will have to swallow their pride and ego to join hands and form the government. The same is the case with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh. Till sometime back there was hardly any probability of these two parties coming together.”
In context of AAP and Congress, there have been reports in the media suggesting about talks between the two forces on a seat sharing arrangement of sorts in Delhi which the leaderships have denied. But the possibility is being examined from various angles.
AAP insiders point out, “ If it comes to something like Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur there might be an understanding where all the Opposition parties are coming together to field a common candidate against the BJP. Such kind of arrangement is possible but one cannot expect an alliance in the traditional political sense. For example when we look in Delhi, Congress leader Ajay Maken has been acting more like the BJP against AAP than the BJP itself. He was the one who seemed to be in a hurry to get 20 AAP MLAs disqualified. He has been the one who was appreciating the Lieutenant Governor for his anti-AAP measures.”
They point out that with what face will AAP leaders face their supporters and cadres who have joined ranks to bring up a party that is a non-Congress non-BJP force if they go in for a political alliance in the traditional sense.
In this case, the dynamics of Delhi will be very different from Punjab, the second state where AAP has a formidable presence. Political observers point out that in context of Punjab, the state leadership will have very little say in what the party's national leadership under Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal decides. It will simply have no choice before it. This has been evident from the fallout of the recent apology submitted by Kejriwal to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikramjit Singh Majithia over the allegations made with regards to the drug menace. The state leadership made a noise which eventually fizzled out.
There has been churning on the issue of an arrangement with the Congress. There are reports of senior AAP leader HS Phoolka opposing such a move. It is understandable in his case where his personal convictions overwhelmingly overrides the interest of the party. Phoolka has played a pivotal role in fighting cases against the Congress leaders in Delhi for their alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. His career and public image has been built on these cases. At the same time reports say that AAP's leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira of not being opposed to such a move.
But political statements apart, AAP would not be opposed to such an idea given the fact that it has fared badly in every election after its rout in the 2017 assembly polls and it stands in a disarray in Punjab. Its voter base has shifted towards Congress in these elections and it would be more than happy if it is able to retain the four Lok Sabha seats it won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls through some kind of arrangement.
“In Punjab the people had hope but are disillusioned. We have to accept that AAP in Punjab today is either a luxury or a nostalgia. It is not that the people are happy with the Congress but the resentment against the Akali-BJP combine stays and they are left with no choice. With so many fence sitters there can be a repeat of Shahkot across the state,” says Manjeet.
The Shahkot bye-poll results a couple of days ago show that almost the entire AAP vote base shifted towards the Congress. It is being underlined that he fence sitters would be more inclined to vote for an arrangement with the Congress as they would be sure that at leas they would not be facing any harassment and there would be a contentment that their vote has not gone waste.
In Haryana, things are much different. AAP is yet to make a start here and is not in a condition to bargain for seats. The party has been trying to get a foothold, at least in the areas around Delhi, by selling its Delhi model of governance. On the other hand the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), one of the three main political forces along with the Congress and the BJP, has already announced a pre-poll pact with he BSP. It needs to be pointed that the Congress and the INLD have been the traditional rivals in the state and the BJP is a newcomer. What would be most interesting is that apart from a possible AAP–Congress tie up whether the INLD, Congress and the BSP too can come together. It remains a remote possibility at present but then nothing can be ruled out in the present political circumstances across the country.