AAP and Congress lock horns again in Delhi

Old grievances and ideological clashes resurface as AAP and Congress trade barbs in the aftermath of the failed Lok Sabha election alliance.

Published : Jun 15, 2024 19:46 IST - 5 MINS READ

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Kalpana Soren after the INDIA bloc meeting in New Delhi, June 1.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Kalpana Soren after the INDIA bloc meeting in New Delhi, June 1. | Photo Credit: Kamal Singh

After the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-Congress alliance failed to make an impact in Delhi during the recent Lok Sabha election, both parties are at loggerheads once again. On June 15, the Delhi unit of the Congress launched a “Matka Phod” protest against the AAP-led Delhi government amid the prevailing drinking water crisis in the national capital region.

Even though the Delhi government has accused the BJP-ruled Haryana government of depriving Delhi of its share of water, the Delhi Congress chief Devender Yadav, has demanded a special session of the Assembly to discuss the issue. Yadav told reporters he had forewarned the AAP government about the looming crisis. “The corrupt Delhi government has destroyed the capital city. The public at large has no option but to buy drinking water.”

Meanwhile, AAP has written to the Union Minister for Jal Shakti C.R. Paatil, seeking his intervention and coordination with north Indian States to provide more water to Delhi. Several Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) insiders told Frontline that the party unit was soon going to corner the ruling AAP on many other governance-related issues.

As the rivals lock horns, not many are surprised given the history of AAP’s rise from an anti-Congress campaign that it started more than a decade ago. Riding on the Anna Hazare movement in 2011, AAP’s leader Arvind Kejriwal defeated three-term Delhi Chief Minister and Congress veteran Sheila Dikshit in her constituency New Delhi in 2013.

Also Read | Delhi: A test for the AAP-Congress alliance

That the 2024 alliance of the Congress and AAP was an aberration was more than evident when at least three days before the single-phase Lok Sabha election in Punjab—where AAP didn’t have any seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress unlike in Delhi—Kejriwal declared that “AAP is not in a permanent marriage with the Congress.” In Punjab, while AAP won three seats, its main rival Congress bagged seven out of 13. The AAP had swept the 2022 Assembly election in Punjab by winning 92 out of 117 seats.

The Delhi State convenor of AAP, Gopal Rai admitted that alliance with the Congress helped AAP decrease its margin of loss compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sandeep Pathak, said in a press conference: “Our aim was to stop the BJP. We stopped BJP in Punjab and Chandigarh. We have achieved our aim.” On the Chandigarh seat, former Union Minister and sitting Congress MP from Anandpur Sahib, Manish Tewari, defeated the BJP as an alliance candidate.

Citing the factors responsible for the faltering AAP-Congress alliance in Delhi, Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit told Frontline, “Though there was a commonality of purpose, it wasn’t a comfortable alliance. People on the street didn’t accept it. The AICC (All India Congress Committee) forced its authority as far as the selection of candidates was concerned.” Dikshit, who is the son of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, added: “Unlike Lohiaite socialists such as the Samajwadi Party (SP), who were earlier critical of Nehru and later changed their views, the AAP never apologised or retracted its derogatory remarks against our leaders such as Sheila Dikshit and Sonia Gandhi.”

In protest against the AAP-Congress alliance and the selection of candidates, two former Congress MLAs, Neeraj Basoya and Naseeb Singh, resigned from the party following the footsteps of former Delhi Congress president Arvinder Singh Lovely, who quit his post attributing his decision to organisational friction within the Delhi unit of the Congress and the AICC.

Also Read | Delhi battleground: How AAP-Congress alliance takes on BJP amid Kejriwal’s arrest saga

“The protest defections were also responsible for Congress’ rout to some extent. On three seats that the Congress lost, north-west Delhi, north-east Delhi, and Chandni Chowk, the AAP had a considerable presence of elected councillors in the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi). It clearly shows that they didn’t do enough for Congress candidates on the ground,” said Dikshit, adding that the AAP candidates on the remaining four seats, New Delhi, east Delhi, south Delhi, and west Delhi, were not political heavyweights.

Rasheed Kidwai, author and political commentator, told Frontline: “The AAP came to power in Delhi at the expense of the Congress. Therefore, the alliance created a lot of resentment among party workers, which ultimately led to a consolidation in favour of the BJP.”

The alleged scams against AAP leaders, the Swati Maliwal assault case and BJP’s prominence in the media did impact the AAP’s prospects and hurt the alliance, said Kidwai. The BJP had campaigned against several alleged scams that took place in the AAP-led Delhi government over the past year.

The AAP has been sweeping Assembly elections in the national capital territory since 2013, after it dislodged the Congress from power. In 2022, the AAP won the Municipal Corporation of Delhi election, ending BJP’s 15-year hold on the civic body. BJP had its last Chief Minister in Delhi over 25 years ago. But in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has maintained its dominance on all the seven seats.

“The BJP had been campaigning against several alleged scams that took place in the AAP-led Delhi government in recent years. This could be a part of the reason why the AAP, which was the engine of the alliance, could not retain its vote-share in the Assembly and MCD in this election,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a political analyst, adding, “It seems that the Delhi voters are yet to take AAP’s claim to the Lok Sabha seriously.”

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