Earlier this week, speaking at a session of the India Today Mumbai Conclave, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar said AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had told him during a recent conversation that he was ready to give three of Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats to the Congress. Both parties, along with the NCP, are among the 28 parties in the INDIA bloc.
While senior leaders of the two parties have not commented on seat-sharing pacts, tensions have run high between them since the first meeting of the alliance in June. They were exacerbated last month following the arrest of Congress MLA Sukhpal Khaira in a 2015 narcotics case in Punjab, where the AAP is in power. While the Congress labelled the arrest “political vendetta, AAP leaders said there would be no compromise in its fight against drugs.
That the state units of the Congress in Punjab and Delhi have voiced their displeasure about talks of an alliance or seat-sharing in their jurisdiction is no secret, but the top leaders of the two parties have also largely remained silent on these statements. Much of this stems from the fact that the Congress is the opposition to the AAP in both states, more so in Punjab than in Delhi where the party has not had a single MLA since 2015. It has remained steadfast in its criticism of the AAP, with several current and former state leaders calling the Kejriwal-led party “untrustworthy”.
After AAP MP Sanjay Singh’s arrest in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) case in the alleged liquor scam, Congress’s Delhi in-charge Deepak Babaria said he could not say for sure if the arrest was based on “genuine facts” or was an example of “misuse of investigative agencies”. The party has not officially criticised the arrest either.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leader Rahul Gandhi have also not given any time to Kejriwal for a meeting despite the former seeking it in May.
Why the 2019 talks failed
This is not the first time that uncertainty surrounds a possible AAP-Congress tie-up in Delhi ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Back-door consultations on seat sharing in Delhi and other states, especially Haryana, continued over months in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary elections. Kejriwal in February 2019 referred to the talks with the Congress, telling reporters, “Humare mann mein desh ko lekar bahut zyada chinta hai. Isi vajah se hum lalayit hain. Unhone lagbhag mana kar diya (We are very worried about the country. This is why we were tempted. They have almost said no).”
Explaining why the dialogue crumbled, a source said, “The AAP was not willing to have an alliance just in Delhi. Some senior leaders from both sides had even suggested a 5-2 split in AAP’s favour but talks broke down. This time, the situation is a little different though. The Congress has won the Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, while the AAP finds itself mired in controversies.”
A Delhi Congress leader said the party’s experience supporting the AAP in 2013 had left a sour taste. “We gave them outside support and helped them form the government in 2013 but they quit within 49 days and blamed us. Since then, they have preyed on the Congress voter base, leaving no stone unturned to weaken the Delhi Congress,” he said.
According to senior AAP leaders, while the party is willing to agree to a seat-sharing arrangement at the national level this time, state elections should be kept out of the purview of any agreement.
“It is imperative for all parties to understand that an alliance at the state level will demotivate our party cadres in states. Our teams have been working to build a base in these states for the past 10 years. We are tying up in the Centre to defeat the BJP but states have to be kept out of this equation. That said, the seat-sharing pact is a long way from being finalised. At the end of the day, the goal of defeating the BJP has to be kept front and centre,” said a senior AAP leader.
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Since 2009, all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi have been won by a single party — in 2009 it was the Congress, followed by the BJP in 2014 and 2019.
The AAP, meanwhile, is on the back foot. Former Deputy CM Manish Sisodia and now Singh have been arrested and the Delhi government stands accused of flouting norms in getting Kejriwal’s official residence rebuilt for around Rs 50 crore. It is also in court against the Centre’s newly passed law that takes administrative control out of the hands of the elected government and hands it over to the Lieutenant-Governor. A combative relationship with L-G V K Saxena has only increased the party’s troubles.
“The AAP that we were dealing with in 2019 is not the AAP of today. It is surrounded by controversies and several of its senior leaders are in jail. Public perception has also been hit because of the controversy surrounding Kejriwal’s official residence and the money spent on it,” said a Congress leader.