In a cleft stick

Print edition : January 24, 2014

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at an event marking the 128th anniversary of the party in New Delhi on December 28. Photo: Manish Swarup/AP

THE Congress, which suffered its biggest electoral reverse in Delhi on account of the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) stunning debut in December 2013, is dumb-founded about what political approach it must adopt towards the new party and its government. The Congress is technically supporting the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government, but an overwhelming majority of its leaders, both in Delhi and at the national level, are uncomfortable with the arrangement, so much so that no leader is ready to discuss it.

Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit’s description of the support did unravel the intensity of the negative feelings large sections of the party have for the present arrangement. He said the Congress’ support was not for the AAP but for its manifesto and that the party wanted to see how the AAP planned to fulfil its promises. Senior leaders such as Janardan Dwivedi and Jairam Ramesh, too, expressed their reservations about the arrangement. While Dikshit set a three-month deadline for the AAP to deliver on its promises, Jairam Ramesh stressed the need for a common minimum programme (CMP), maintaining that the arrangement would not become workable without it. Dwivedi complained that not much discussion had taken place in the party on the decision to support the AAP and that there was a stream of opinion in the party that perhaps the decision to support the AAP in this manner was not correct.

The murmur in Congress circles is that the decision was taken arbitrarily by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi by sounding out the idea to a close circle of leaders. The thinking on these lines had apparently started soon after the election results were out when Rahul Gandhi said that he would learn from the manner in which the AAP had involved people in its activities. It was this line of thought that culminated in the announcement of unconditional support to the AAP to form the government. According to Congress insiders, the offer of unconditional support, it was thought, would benefit the party in two ways.

First, it was argued, it would create the impression that the Congress was abiding by the people’s verdict and was making an earnest effort to correct its mistakes. Second, it was even more forcefully argued that the AAP would not dare to take the Congress’ support lest its image should be affected. Those who advocated this line of thought contended that this would expose the AAP leadership and show them as shirkers who were only good at finding fault with others. But as it turned out, the AAP decided to take the Congress’ offer of support and, that too, by holding a referendum. This completely upset the calculations of those who sought to put the AAP in a fix and added to the confusion within the party.

Support-and-corner move

Discussions in Congress circles reveal that the “support and corner the AAP” move was initiated by Shakeel Ahmed, the party general secretary in charge of Delhi, and was shared with Rahul Gandhi, who took it up avidly with sections of the State Congress. Significantly, the views of the outgoing Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, who had led the party’s State government for 15 years, were not taken into consideration.

As things stand now, there is a feeling among different sections of the party that the AAP might even target Congress leaders in a highly publicised anti-corruption drive, creating more problems for the party. “They [the AAP leadership] have displayed enough realpolitik skills to show that they can pull off many such manoeuvres,” a senior party leader told Frontline. The Congress’ attempt, according to a number of leaders at the State and national levels, will be to start exerting pressure right from the time of the Speaker’s election and try and rein in the government. But even here, in the absence of a mechanism for discussion and coordination, the Congress leadership is not clear how much headway it can make. Clearly, the Congress in Delhi vis-a-vis its relations with the AAP is in a state of agitation, which could well lead to internal combustion.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan