I recently ran into one of the few surviving councillors of the Congress in Delhi who told me that there is a complete disconnect between realities on the ground and the leadership's perception at the top. The ground reality is simple: if the Congress and the AAP do not join hands for the Lok Sabha poll, the BJP will, in all likelihood, get all seven seats in the Capital.
A friend, who did an extensive countrywide survey, also shares that according to his findings, without an alliance, the BJP gets six seats and the AAP gets one. With an alliance, the tally is reversed to the BJP getting one or two. The AAP vote share is almost double that of the Congress and Delhi’s ruling party holds its base in the slums and ghettoes while it has lost the support of the more prosperous sections of the middle class.
The Congress vote share in the 2015 Assembly elections in Delhi where it got zero seats was 9.7 per cent. My pollster friend notes a small improvement to 19 per cent before the 2019 national battle. According to my friend, the AAP still has 34 per cent of the vote share in the Capital — a drop from the 54 per cent that the party had when it swept the Delhi Assembly in 2015. In the 2015 Assembly polls when the AAP made a historic sweep, the BJP still had 32 per cent vote share, just one per cent drop from its performance in the last Delhi Assembly poll. What is also worth remembering is that voters chose very differently for the Delhi Assembly and the Lok Sabha that had taken place six months earlier. The BJP vote share in Delhi in the course of the Modi-powered Lok Sabha win was 46.1 per cent, giving it an easy sweep of seven seats. But the closest contender was the AAP that had 33 per cent of the vote in Delhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. The Congress in the 2014 General Election got just 15 per cent of the vote share in Delhi, the national Capital from where it had ruled the country for a decade.
Let’s presume that the BJP has a drop in performance from 2014 to 2019 and loses percentage points in vote shares in the upcoming poll. Even then, in the Lok Sabha elections, it would win most of the seats in Delhi. But an AAP-Congress alliance would be as formidable as the “mahagathbandhan” of Uttar Pradesh.
But the Congress, till now, is not agreeable. Recently, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, now Delhi Congress chief, announced this and is basically of the view that the AAP is too untrustworthy for an alliance. So, what then is the Congress going to do in Delhi? Sit back on a high horse, refuse to mingle with the AAP, and give the BJP an easy win? Is the Congress, therefore, of the view that they can live with the BJP but not get into any arrangement with the AAP? Do we call this a political strategy or harakiri?
The AAP, on its part, say sources in the party, would be ready for a 5-2 seat sharing with the Congress in Delhi that could be hammered into a 4-3 arrangement depending on the seats. Congress sources complain that the AAP is also demanding seats in Punjab and Haryana, which they are not inclined to give. And yes, we the people of India remember clearly why the Congress would hate the AAP so much.
But all the quibbling apart, surely in the end, the AAP and the Congress know what is at stake here? The AAP is the smaller party and it is guilty of allowing individual members to make intemperate remarks on Rajiv Gandhi at a time when it is in need of an alliance.
Yet, the Congress is the national party that needs to have a blueprint for the entire country. And that currently calls for eating some humble pie, getting over its recent bitter history with Kejriwal and company and getting down to doing what is the need of the hour.
A Congress leader told me that if they allow the AAP to survive, they would never be able to rebuild their base in Delhi. Such statements smack of both arrogance and ignorance. Years ago, the Congress lost its base in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to parties born in the churn that is referred to as the Mandal era. Today, the Congress is in alliance with some of these parties as the junior partner.
The ship has sailed in Delhi as well where the AAP is the stronger force than the Congress. The national party needs to do a reality check and remember that an enemy’s enemy is a friend.