The Package | 9 Stories

Alliance of convenience: AAP, Cong seal deal for Delhi, to go solo in Punjab

The Congress and AAP are friends in Delhi but at loggerheads in Punjab, while the BJP is infusing fresh blood to retain what it won in 2019.

Published : Mar 18, 2024 15:59 IST - 7 MINS READ

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal during the launch of the party’s Lok Sabha election campaign, in New Delhi on March 8.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal during the launch of the party’s Lok Sabha election campaign, in New Delhi on March 8. | Photo Credit: SHASHI SHEKHAR KASHYAP

The faltering INDIA bloc got a fillip of sorts in late February when the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, after weeks of political wrangling, announced a tie-up for Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, and Goa. But the move had its own share of political contradictions.

The grand old party’s central leadership chose the larger objective of stopping the Narendra Modi juggernaut in the Lok Sabha election, prevailing over opposing voices from its Delhi unit against embracing the enemy that had decimated the Congress in Delhi.

While the once bitter rivals are now friends in Delhi, they continue to breath down each other’s necks in Punjab, where both parties are well entrenched and the BJP is on the back foot. The alliance partners have decided to go solo, an example of rapidly waning ideological integrity.

Also Read | Daring dozen: 12 crucial States where BJP is likely to face a stiff challenge

Surprisingly, even after seat-sharing pacts for some States, leaders of both parties in Punjab continue to be at loggerheads. Earlier in March, during an Assembly session, legislators of the two parties stopped short of a fist fight after Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann lost his cool and urged Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa to tell his central party leadership not to bother offering AAP Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, and elsewhere.

As per the agreement for Delhi, the AAP will contest four seats—New Delhi, South Delhi, West Delhi, and East Delhi—while the Congress will field candidates in Chandni Chowk, North East Delhi, and North West Delhi. The choices are driven by the need to prevent a division of Muslim votes, which could benefit the BJP.

BJP plan to retain Delhi seats

The Congress-AAP understanding seems to have forced the BJP to drop six sitting MPs, unlike 2019 when it repeated sitting MPs in five seats. The Delhi BJP chief and MP from North East Delhi, Manoj Tiwari, is the only candidate who has been given the ticket to contest again. Those who have been dropped are Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, Ramesh Bidhuri, Meenakshi Lekhi, Hans Raj Hans, Gautam Gambhir, and Harsh Vardhan.

Bidhuri, MP from South Delhi since 2014, hogged the headlines last year when he verbally abused MP Danish Ali during a parliamentary session. Parvesh Verma, MP in 2009, 2014, and 2019, and son of former Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma, was banned by the Election Commission twice from campaigning during the 2020 Delhi Assembly election for his communal rants.

Also Read | AAP faces existential crisis as liquor scam clouds its anti-corruption image

The BJP is fielding new faces such as Bansuri Swaraj, daughter of former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj. She will fight against the AAP’s Somnath Bharti, three-time MLA and former Minister, in the New Delhi seat.

In the 2019 general election, the BJP garnered over 56 per cent of the votes in the capital, bagging all seven seats. However, the AAP swept Delhi in the 2020 Assembly election, winning 62 seats in the 70-member House, with a 53.6 per cent vote share. The BJP had to satisfy itself with eight seats.

The AAP has made the power tussle between the State and the Centre its main plank, while projecting the action against its leaders in the Delhi liquor policy case as a political vendetta. “By deciding to ally with the Congress [and contest only four seats], the Delhi Chief Minister... has shown that he has lost the faith of almost half of Delhi,” Delhi BJP president Virendra Sachdeva said in a statement.

The AAP has ceded North West Delhi, a reserved seat, to the Congress. Sachdeva accused the AAP of having lost touch with the Dalit and rural population.

Political observers said that at least three constituencies—New Delhi, South Delhi, and West Delhi—are expected to see a tough fight between the BJP and the AAP, while the Congress could reclaim at least one seat.

The Punjab scene

As far as Punjab is concerned, in 2019 the Congress won 8 of the 13 seats, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal)-BJP alliance bagged 4, and the AAP 1. Nevertheless, the AAP swept the 2022 Assembly election, securing 92 of the 117 seats, shortly after the end of the farmers’ agitation against the Centre’s controversial farm laws. The AAP had a 42 per cent vote share, the Congress 22 per cent, and the BJP 6 per cent.

After Bhagwant Mann became the Chief Minister and vacated the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, the AAP lost it to the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate, Simranjit Singh Mann. Last year, the AAP won the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, which the Congress had held for 24 years. The winner, Sushil Kumar Rinku, a former Congress MLA, defeated Karamjit Kaur of the Congress by over 58,000 votes.

The SAD (Badal), which won just three seats in the 2022 Assembly election, ended its alliance of over two decades with the BJP during the farmers’ agitation in 2020. The renewed agitation has upset all plans of renewing the old alliance.

The ongoing farmers’ protest seems to have eclipsed several steps taken by the Narendra Modi government to win the support of Punjabis, especially the majority Sikh community. Unlike in Jammu and Kashmir, where the Modi government suspended trade and travel across the Line of Control, in Punjab, it opened the Kartarpur Corridor in November 2019, allowing visa-free border crossing.

At a farmers’ protest, in Amritsar on March 5. The protest has eclipsed the BJP’s efforts to win the support of Punjabis, especially among the Sikh community.

At a farmers’ protest, in Amritsar on March 5. The protest has eclipsed the BJP’s efforts to win the support of Punjabis, especially among the Sikh community. | Photo Credit: RAMINDER PAL SINGH/ANI

The religious corridor connects Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib near Lahore, Pakistan. In 2022, the Union Ministry of Culture declared that December 26 would be observed as “Veer Bal Divas” to mark the martyrdom of Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, sons of the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

One of the two sitting BJP MPs from the State, Sunny Deol, who recently featured in the Hindi film Gadar 2, has been a rare sight in his constituency, Gurdaspur, ever since his election in 2019. Much to the embarrassment of the BJP leadership, Deol has refrained from engaging with the agitating farmers.

According to Surinder S. Jodhka, a professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Punjab’s demographics cannot be understood through the usual categories of religious divide, with Sikhs and Hindus being the two major communities. At a little less than 60 per cent of the population, Sikhs make up the majority, while Hindus make up a little less than 40 per cent.

He said: “The divisions of caste add to the complexities of religious demographics, perhaps much more than anywhere else. Punjab has the highest proportion of Scheduled Caste population in the country [32 per cent]. Although 55-60 per cent of them are listed as Hindus by religion, a majority of them have historically seen themselves as being different.

“They are formally listed as Hindus, but they have their own deras and shrines and rarely visit Hindu temples. Many of them are likely to see themselves as closer to Sikhism. It is for this reason that the social basis of the BJP’s Hindutva politics is limited to the urban dominant castes, including the OBC Hindus, who account for just 20-25 per cent of the total population.”

Also Read | Punjab vs Centre: Can Union override State powers in border security?

According to him, Sikhs are also divided along caste lines. “Sikh politics has been dominated by Jat agriculturalists, but they make up only a quarter of the State’s population. They have been the primary support base for Akali politics. A substantial portion of Sikhs, including Jats, have also been supporters of the Congress.”

While the AAP has accused MPs from Punjab of remaining silent on the crucial issues concerning the State, the Congress, whose many senior leaders and legislators have switched to the BJP in recent years, is trying to capitalise on farm distress. It has promised to provide a legal guarantee to the minimum support price of crops if it comes to power at the Centre.

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal launched his party’s election campaign in Punjab on March 11. Accusing the Modi government of withholding Rs.8,000 crore of Punjab’s funds, Kejriwal also alleged that the BJP was approaching his party’s MLAs to topple the AAP-led State government.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment