Whether the Congress is repeating its mistake of “underestimating” the AAP and will pay for its overconfidence in banking on AAP decimating itself or whether its gambit is borne out of its experience, is a matter of speculation, at least for now… While the AAP might have damaged BJP’s electoral chances in Delhi, it had nonetheless harmed the Congress more, eating into its vote bank…The Congress cannot ignore the fact that in half-a-dozen constituencies, the AAP has managed to gather almost the same number of votes as the Congress… Kavita Chowdhury analyses…
In less than an hour after Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal beat a retreat by calling off his controversial “10-day dharna” in two days, a Congress spokesperson went on record to give credit to Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, the principal target of the CM’s ire, “for resolving the crisis and saving Republic Day”. Although the Congress, which props up the minority AAP Government, has sharpened its attack on the fledgling party, despite all the abuses heaped on it by the CM, the party refused to withdraw its legislative support.
Congress strategists believe by the time the Lok Sabha polls are around, the AAP will “implode” and they will only have to “hasten its decline.” Although the Congress gave Kejriwal a “face saver” and allowed him to paint a small concession as “people’s victory”, it spared no opportunity to highlight that the AAP had been “irresponsible, caused hardships to the very people whose cause he claimed to espouse” and “had questioned the legitimacy of the Republic day celebrations”.
“The Congress has been working according to a plan – attacking the AAP from all sides,” said a Congress leader. “They dealt us the most unkindest cut of all — took away 75 per cent of our votes. They bagged 28 seats and reduced our tally to eight where we had ruled for 15 years.” While it is no secret the Congress was sharply divided over extending support to the AAP, with even Finance Minister P Chidambaram declaring it was a “wrong decision”, those who had pushed for Congress support to the AAP are feeling smug at the AAP’s pressing the ‘self destruct button’ and tamely calling off its protests. “The AAP countdown has already begun,” said a beaming Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal.
“Since our MLAs said they were not in a position to face another election in Delhi, we intended to support the AAP to form the Government and let it fulfil its lofty promises. Remember, it was those promises of 700 litres of free water and reducing power bills by 50 per cent that cost us our traditional vote bank. There is no way that can deliver on those promises and they will gradually be exposed in front of the people,” explained a senior party functionary who was privy to the decision making.
The AAP’s declaration that it would capitalise on their growing popularity across the country and fight the Lok Sabha poll, made the Congress camp realise the AAP could not be wished away and its “laboratory” Government in Delhi must be exposed at all costs, without the Congress overtly seeming to pull the rug from under the AAP’s feet and help the latter play the “martyr card”.
While there were a few voices initially within the Congress that had rooted for the party extending support to the AAP, as it would be an effective bulwark against the BJP and cut into its votes, a senior Congress functionary dismissed such a view. “Yes, it is true that Kejriwal’s rise has taken away the media attention from Narendra Modi. Modi, who used to hog the news headlines and front pages, has now been replaced by Kejriwal but that is not by any Congress design, but rather as a natural fallout,” said the Congress leader.
While the AAP might have damaged BJP’s electoral chances in Delhi, it had nonetheless harmed the Congress more, eating into its vote bank. Contrary to public perception, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who had been the main target of the AAP’s campaign, was among those who had initially wanted to extend support and subsequently demanded withdrawal. In a recent post-poll interview to Business Standard, Dikshit described the AAP Government as being in “chaos”. She blamed the AAP for making “populist promises that cannot be fulfilled” and sounded confident that soon the AAP would be exposed. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, moments after AAP’s historic victory in the national capital, had stated the Congress would learn from the AAP.
The Congress’s move to reduce power tariffs in Maharashtra and Haryana and involve public in preparing party manifesto and candidate selection is inspired by the AAP. Congress leaders, who were wary of Gandhi’s going all out to ape AAP, (he compelled the Maharashtra cabinet go back on its decision to reject the Adarsh probe report), his recent call at the AICC session to adapt to change and yet fall back on its 129-year-old tradition has given much relief. And yet, this is clearly a tactical move. The Congress cannot ignore the fact that in half-a-dozen constituencies, the AAP has managed to gather almost the same number of votes as the Congress.
In Bawana assembly constituency, the AAP candidate got 42,700 votes, while the Congress got 42,000 votes. The BJP bagged the seat. Similarly, in Ghonda, the combined Congress-AAP vote far surpasses the BJP – which won the seat after a long hiatus. So, the alliance is tactical – and everyone in the Congress accepts this. The Congress considers the BJP as the main rival, as AAP’s clout extends only to urban centres and would have little traction in 70 per cent of the country that is rural.
However, AAP ideologue Yogendra Yadav has already declared his intention to contest from Haryana, claiming that it was from there that AAP had got maximum response after Delhi. The Bhupinder Singh Hooda Government has dismissed any threat from the AAP. Hooda said, “AAP has no presence in Haryana’s electoral scene. Initially, there was some curiosity but over the five weeks that they have been in power in Delhi, their glaring failures have ended any public interest in them.” Whether the Congress is repeating its mistake of “underestimating” the AAP and will pay for its overconfidence in banking on AAP decimating itself or whether its gambit is borne out of its experience, is a matter of speculation, at least for now.
– BS : Decoding Congress gameplan to bring down AAP