The open infighting in the Delhi unit of the Congress, over a possible alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party, could not have occurred at a worse time. While the Congress high command is attempting to carry the battle into the BJP camp, after holding its Working Committee meeting in Gujarat on the Prime Minister’s turf, the former and present presidents of the city Congress, Ajay Maken and Sheila Dikshit are engaged in a public feud.
Post Rahul Gandhi’s declaration that the party would go it alone in the national capital, Maken and his supporters are working overtime to convince him to review his decision. In fact, assisted by P.C. Chacko, the AICC general secretary in charge of Delhi, a survey is being carried out amongst workers, to ascertain their opinion regarding the tie-up, after Dikshit and her team vehemently opposed any sort of seat adjustment with the AAP. What is surprising is that the appraisal is being conducted with Dikshit being oblivious of this exercise.
It is a well known fact that Maken and Dikshit do not see eye-to-eye any more, and therefore are on opposite sides. Maken during his tenure was also not in favour of doing any kind of electoral business with the AAP, but is fully aware that without its support, his becoming a member of the Lok Sabha in the 2019 elections would be highly unlikely. On its own strength, the Congress has rather very diminutive chances, given that it has no seat either in Parliament or the Delhi Assembly and when Arvind Kejriwal offered to furnish them a few seats, the party was presented with an opportunity to resuscitate itself.
However, there are doubts whether the AAP is serious on this association, or is using the partnership issue to send a message to Muslim voters, in particular, that by declining an alliance, the Congress was trying to help the BJP. Within the AAP, there is a sizable section which is opposed to seat understanding with the Congress, keeping in view the 2020 Assembly polls. Nevertheless, there are some elements within AAP, who want that once Congress acquires a few seats in Delhi, it would be compelled to accommodate AAP in some other states, particularly Punjab, from where AAP had made its Lok Sabha debut in 2014 by winning four seats. It is another matter that Captain Amarinder Singh is not interested in getting AAP on board, and is confident that on its own steam, the Congress would be able to win most of the seats in the border state.
The situation in Delhi is on a sticky wicket. Maken, who during his tenure had antagonised a large number of his own party colleagues, is willing to bury the hatchet with Kejriwal, primarily because of his own personal ambitions, but also since he knows that Congress was in no position to win the polls single-handedly. In fact, if the Congress was to contest individually it would find itself in further dire conditions.
The party cadre is demoralised, and in all likelihood the Congress nominees going solo, without an arrangement, may forfeit their deposit like it happened in 2014 and once again, to a large extent, in the 2015 Assembly elections. Maken is aware of this fact of the matter, since he had himself lost his deposit both in the Parliamentary elections from New Delhi, and subsequently in the Assembly polls from Sadar Bazaar.
Dikshit, on the other hand, has been convinced by her supporters that people in the city were feeling her absence and by leading the party campaign, she would be able to assist the Congress in picking up a few seats. There are reports that the Congress was hoping to induct Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to contest from East Delhi, though the newly-appointed general secretary appears disinclined to contest from anywhere so as to enable herself to concentrate on the election theatre in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Dikshit’s supporters are accusing Maken of being self-serving while the former president’s camp is busy attacking her for allegedly being hand-in-glove with the BJP. After Dikshit gave an interview to Vir Sanghvi, where she inadvertently lauded Narendra Modi for his response to terror, even the AAP is claiming that there was a secret settlement between the Congress and the BJP. Since then Dikshit has clarified that her views were distorted, but her detractors have not allowed the opportunity to slip by.
The significance attached to the Parliamentary seats in Delhi, goes much beyond numbers, since it is also good optics. Senior Congress leader, the late H.K.L. Bhagat, would often say that Delhi was mini India, and for any party that aspires to play a national role, winning from the city was mandatory in order to be taken seriously.
Thus the dilemma before the Congress is that should it not win any seat in the capital, it may find it difficult to procure a respectable score nationally. The party is trying to overcome the BJP blitzkrieg led by Narendra Modi, the most formidable political player in the current scenario, while simultaneously attempting to revive itself in states where it had been reduced to zilch. An uphill task, given that the organisational structure, in most places, is in shambles.
In any case, the party high command should intervene immediately so as to prevent Maken and Dikshit from further washing their dirty linen in public. If not so, this open spat would erode the Congress beyond recovery. Between us.