AAP’s balancing act: Poll guarantees in Congress-ruled states, but ‘serious’ about INDIA, seat-sharing

New Delhi: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s election pitches earlier this month against the Congress may have upset the latter, but his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is still keen to lay the groundwork for the Opposition INDIA alliance, ThePrint has learnt.   

Just ahead of the two-day INDIA meeting scheduled in Mumbai, sources in the AAP told ThePrint that the party was still keen on holding seat-sharing talks and finding common ground for the next year’s parliamentary election. The Opposition INDIA alliance is scheduled to hold its next meeting on 31 August — its third in the last three months.  

The development comes days after AAP national convener Kejriwal pitched his party as an alternative to both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in two public meetings — one in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and the second in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. 

While the Congress is pushing hard to reclaim Madhya Pradesh from the BJP, it is fighting to retain power in Chhattisgarh. 

According to the AAP sources, at the Mumbai meeting, the party will underline the need to have coordination committees, which are yet to be formed even after two rounds of deliberations in Patna and Bengaluru

Also Read:No point going to INDIA meet,’ says AAP after Congress leader talks of 2024 preparations in Delhi

Chhattisgarh, MP plan — ‘establishing organisational presence’ 

At AAP public rallies earlier this month, Kejriwal announced “10 guarantees” — including free electricity up to 300 units and Rs 3,000 allowance to unemployed youth. 

In Raipur Saturday, Kejriwal took on the Congress government, alleging that its schools were in a “miserable state”. The next day, in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, he reiterated the AAP’s pet theme — that it was different from both parties.

“All political parties are involved in cursing and blaming each other, the Congress and the BJP curse each other. We don’t know how to curse, we are in politics only for nation-building. We came from the Anna movement to build the nation. We are not here to loot the nation, unlike other parties…Just give the AAP one chance, and I assure you that you will forget the BJP and the Congress,” he said at the Bhopal rally Sunday. 

Two AAP leaders conceded it was unlikely that the party would emulate its aggressive 2022 Gujarat election campaign — when it won five-seats in the state’s 182 member assembly and secured a vote share of 13 percent — in either state. 

But the idea is to ensure a degree of organisational presence on the ground like it did in the Karnataka election in May, sources said. According to EC data, the AAP secured a negligible 0.58 percent vote share in the election. 

Significantly, the party had not done well in the 2018 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018. Likewise, the party also faced a drubbing in the 2022 assembly elections in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, where it was able to garner only 3.3 percent and 1.10 percent of the total votes polled, respectively.

But differences remain

The AAP is attempting at rapprochement with the Congress despite the fact of them being rivals in Delhi and Punjab — the two states where the former is the ruling party. 

Its eagerness to tie up with the Congress under the larger INDIA umbrella stems from the growing “realisation” that the latter remains the fulcrum of the Opposition bloc.

But this isn’t the first time that the two parties have tried to ally — talks between them broke down before the 2019 parliamentary election, mainly because the Congress refused to extend its seat-sharing pact beyond Delhi. 

In particular, the AAP was keen on seat-sharing seats in Haryana, a state where the Congress is the chief opposition to the ruling BJP. But according to sources, Haryana, which will see assembly election next year, is unlikely to figure in the AAP’s proposal. 

“Instead, apart from Delhi and Punjab, Gujarat is one state where we feel we deserve a few seats,” an AAP leader told ThePrint.

“But before that, seat-sharing needs to be on the agenda of the alliance. Two meetings have already taken place. The sub-committees will help fine tune the seat-sharing formula, pick common campaign issues for weaving a common narrative.”

Significantly, sources from AAP’s Gujarat unit told ThePrint that the state unit had sounded out the central leadership about its willingness to ally with the Congress a few months ago. Earlier this month, Gujarat AAP chief Isudan Gadhvi had announced that seat-sharing was on the cards, but the Congress downplayed it saying it was too early to take a call. 

Despite attempts at brokering peace, the AAP admits that issues remain between the two parties. For instance, despite a thaw in their relationship, the two parties have been bickering intermittently, with the Congress’s Delhi and Punjab units staunchly opposing any understanding with the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.

“These irritants will remain in our ties. They are not going away anytime soon,” an AAP leader conceded to ThePrint. 

The AAP is also likely to hold up its stellar performance in the last rounds of assembly polls in Delhi and Punjab as a bargaining chip for a larger share of seats in the event of sealing an alliance with the Congress. The party has 62 MLAs in Delhi’s 70-member assembly and 92 MLAs in 117-member Punjab assembly. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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