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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

OPINION | Will Congress front load its fight against BJP in Delhi Lok Sabha polls?

A divided anti-BJP vote could replicate the 2014 denouement that saw the saffron party make a clean sweep of the seven parliamentary seats in the city-state of Delhi.

analysis Updated:
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
With Sheila Dikshit sticking to her position of going it alone, a counterview has gained traction, prompting an internal survey.
With Sheila Dikshit sticking to her position of going it alone, a counterview has gained traction, prompting an internal survey. (File Photo)
         

That the Congress should agonise over an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi defies common sense. It’s a no-brainer actually, especially for a party that is advocating that the opposition must unite to dislodge Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party from power at the Centre.

Like other players in the alliance game, the Congress’ is a two-point agenda: defeat Modi; rebuild the party in its fallen citadels. Delhi is one such bailiwick.

But can the Congress reclaim the barony in a triangular fight? Perhaps not. A divided anti-BJP vote could replicate the 2014 denouement that saw the saffron party make a clean sweep of the seven parliamentary seats in the city-state.

What then is holding back the Congress leadership: an obsessive urge to recover the ground it lost to Arvind Kejriwal in the assembly polls, overlooking the electoral space it ceded to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections? That is the flaw in the argument of naysayers, notably former chief minister Sheila Dikshit who, until she became the party’s Delhi unit chief, was ambivalent on the question.

Equally curiously, Ajay Maken, who made way for Dikshit as president of the pradesh congress committee, has reversed his stance. A strong votary now of a pact with Kejriwal’s party, he explained his U-turn at a meeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi recently convened for discussing the alliance question.

With Dikshit sticking to her position of going it alone, a counterview has gained traction, prompting a high command-mandated outreach for direct feedback from party workers. Regardless of the results of the impromptu survey, the party will need to strike a balance between its short and long term goals.

That balancing act will have no meaning, many in the Congress believe, if the leadership fails to front load the objective of a regime change at the Centre. A BJP victory in Delhi will set back the prospects of the Congress’s revival at least by five years. Or even more if the saffron forces get a renewed term on Raisina Hill.

For instance, a Congress old-guard wondered about the party’s prospects in the assembly polls early next year if it draws a blank and stands third, vote share-wise, in the parliamentary polls.

Given its effete organisational presence, the Congress’s claims of strengthening the party are shorthand, in fact, for increasing its vote share — not winning any of the seven LS seats at stake. The self-defeating logic brings into play another debilitating fear — that of losing more ground to AAP which, in the first instance, fattened itself on the traditional Congress vote it purloined in Delhi.

In power for over four years spread over two terms, including the earlier 49-day stint, the AAP is a shadow now of its original avant-garde self. Kejriwal knows that and had wanted to force multiply with the Congress — in Delhi and also in Goa, Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh.

The ambitious AAP proposal was based on the assessment that a wider alliance, if it came about, could win a majority of the 33 seats in these states. In private conversations, Kejriwal placed the prospective alliances tally at 32, barring one of the two seats in Goa.

The AAP-envisioned best-case scenario is rendered unlikely by the near impossibility of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh agreeing to a poll covenant. Only Delhi is doable. In the absence of a pact, the Congress could risk losing its residual vote to Kejriwal. For in a triangular contest, the AAP would look a better challenger to the anti-BJP voter.

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