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Issue-based support for Kejriwal would’ve saved the day for Congress

At stake in Delhi wasn’t power, but a federal principle with potential to coalesce anti-BJP formations.

analysis Updated: Jun 23, 2018 07:01 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,Arvind Kejriwal,Kejriwal protest
A statement issued without prejudice to the Congress’s reservations on Kejriwal’s performance and work style, would have done the trick. (PTI File Photo)

Protagonists of Opposition unity watched with dismay and disbelief as the Congress tied itself up in knots over Arvind Kejriwal’s dharna at the lieutenant governor’s residence.

The Delhi chief minister’s protest was against the bureaucracy not cooperating with his regime, allegedly at the Centre’s bidding.

The choice wasn’t difficult, the strategy still easier to devise. Yet the Congress ended up making a straightforward situation muddled.

Why? How? One version: the party’s top leadership stayed distant and opposed to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the basis of inputs from the ground using a database of workers.

One doesn’t know what exactly the Congress cadre was asked. That apart, the methodology for arriving at the decision — that was more tactical than strategic — seemed odd. All that the party needed to do was to announce issue-based support to Kejriwal on the federal arrangement the Centre “disregarded” in denying him the protocol that’s the right of an elected chief minister of a state.

That would have saved it from taking sides in the CM’s face off with the civil servants.

The tactic did not require any compilation of data.

A statement issued without prejudice to the Congress’s reservations on Kejriwal’s performance and work style, would have done the trick.

In doing so, there was scope as much for the party to be self-congratulatory on broader governance issues in the city.

Advice comes aplenty to leaders occupying top slots in big parties.

But making decisions is a lonely business. It needs sharp impulses and, at times, the ability to think on one’s feet. Had that happened, the Congress would have found space by the side of four non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers who lined up in Kejriwal’s support.

If the move was thought through politically, the leadership would have had the good sense of asking Puducherry CM V Naryanasamy — who feels as inhibited by Kiran Bedi as Kejriwal does by Anil Baijal — to rush to Delhi and be counted with the other four.

Now a BJP-appointed LG in Puducherry, Bedi was with Kejriwal in the Anna Hazare-led anti-graft movement that altered the 2014 electoral battlefield and uprooted the Congress in Delhi.

The optics of it would have said it all.

But that wasn’t to be. What weighed on the Congress’s mind was the baggage of history, not the promise of the future it had so deftly crafted in Karnataka. Issue-based support is a common enough strategy to keep governments running in a fractured polity. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had it from non-UPA partners such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from 2004 to 2014.

Before that, PV Narasimha Rao’s minority government was sustained on conditional support in the 1990s.

Thereafter came the Congress’s own issue-based backing of United Front regimes.

At stake in Delhi wasn’t power, but a federal principle with potential to coalesce anti-BJP formations.

It was a sitter the Congress missed in the manner of a rookie, not as a party which, at 133, is double the average age of the capital’s senior citizenry.

First Published: Jun 23, 2018 06:57 IST