The prospects of byelections to 20 Assembly segments in the national capital have come to haunt the Congress, which is struggling to keep its head above water in the city where it was once the most dominant political player. Although the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in the process of posing a judicial challenge to the Election Commission’s ruling, unseating 20 of its MLAs who had been appointed parliamentary secretaries thus inviting action for holding an office of profit, yet it is only a matter of time before the polls are announced.
The EC’s order, and its subsequent ratification by the President, was welcomed by the Congress, which simultaneously demanded on moral grounds the resignation of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP, too, has made a similar stipulation, but has a far better standing in Delhi than that of its traditional rival, given that it has seven MPs in the Lok Sabha, besides complete control over the three civic bodies. It may perhaps be another story that the BJP could also receive a rude shock once the polls are notified, since spiralling prices and the sealing of shops in major markets have been instrumental in stirring a strong anti-BJP sentiment.
However, the bypolls could initiate the commencement of a Congress-Mukt Delhi, unless the party fights back and wins at least a handful of seats to salvage itself. In the last few elections, the Congress has been relegated to the third position and even though its leaders claim that its percentage has increased, the bypolls would prove to be the first reality-check for Rahul Gandhi and his team to assess the party’s presence at the grassroots. Had the Election Commission not unseated the AAP MLAs, the plight of the Congress would have never come to light. Things are difficult, as the party would find it an uphill task to locate suitable nominees from different places.
Normally speaking, bypolls provide an opportunity to those who have lost the elections to make a comeback. In the present scenario, it is improbable that senior leaders would wish to enter the fray, even if there are going to be probable vacancies in their traditional seats or strongholds. Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken rarely misses any occasion to spew venom at AAP leaders, particularly Kejriwal. He finds himself in an extremely piquant situation since the Delhi Sadar Assembly seat, from where he had contested in 2015, losing his deposit in the process, is also likely to witness a byelection.
Two seats from his New Delhi Parliamentary constituency, which he represented in 2004 and 2009, have fallen vacant as well. Moti Nagar, from where the recently elected AAP Rajya Sabha member, Sushil Gupta had contested on a Congress ticket once, and Rajinder Nagar, represented in 2008 by Ramakant Goswami, will also be holding byelections, furnishing Maken with a wide choice. His rivals would want him to enter the fray, but on his own, he may prefer to opt out on the ground that he would have to oversee the polls in the capital in his capacity as the DPCC chief. In that case, even Ramakant Goswami, a minister in the Sheila Dikshit government, as also the other claimant, Manish Chaturath, a close associate of Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary are unlikely to volunteer.
In Kalkaji, represented at one time by Subhash Chopra, a former DPCC president, the situation may be replicated. Chopra virtually has retired from active politics, though it is well known that he has done worthy work in his constituency. He has been nurturing his daughter Pooja Bahri to succeed him. It is unlikely that she would make her debut in electoral politics in view of the unsatisfactory condition of the Congress. Tarvinder Singh Marwah was long considered to be one of the strongest Congress local leaders; he had replaced the late Jag Parvesh Chandra, a party stalwart from Jangpura. He, too, shall have to work round-the-clock to remain in the contest, if he is selected as the official nominee.
In sharp contrast, Arvinder Singh Lovely, a former DPCC president, who joined the BJP on the eve of the municipal polls following irreconcilable differences with his one time friend and leader Maken, has got a viable chance to win back Gandhi Nagar for the BJP. There is little doubt that the Congress would do everything in its power to defeat him if he contests the election. The supreme irony, however, is that if the Congress puts up a presentable show, the BJP would be the beneficiary against the AAP. In a straight one-on-one battle, the AAP undoubtedly has a clear edge over the BJP. Thus a vote for the Congress could lead to the improvement of chances for the BJP, enabling it to wrest a seat from the AAP since in the current uncertain climate, it is debatable whether the grand old party, in the immediate future, can reclaim its lost position in the capital.
The overall ramifications of the Congress being routed in the city could possibly reverberate in the rest of the country, particularly states where its nominees would take on the BJP. The message, perhaps going out would be that even under Rahul Gandhi’s presidentship, the Congress was unable to resuscitate itself. Time has come for its top leaders to stop penning books and pour their energies in consolidating the organisation in order to forestall a Congress Mukt Bharat. Between us.