The big question before 2024 polls: Can the Congress and AAP kiss and make up? - Hindustan Times

The Congress and AAP need to kiss and make up before the 2024 polls for a strong national oppositional front. Can they?

By Vinod Sharma
May 28, 2023 06:55 PM IST

The Congress-Left compact is the template that the grand old party needs to follow to share national space with new players like the Aam Admi Party

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wasn’t invited to the May 20 swearing-in of the Congress government in Karnataka, but the general secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sitaram Yechury, was. Locked in intense turf wars in the southern state and in the earlier years in West Bengal and Tripura, the two national parties have often acted in tandem at the Centre while battling it out in states.

A file photo of an artist from Amritsar creating a poster shortly before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections showing Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and Narendra Modi (HT photo/Sameer Sehgal) PREMIUM
A file photo of an artist from Amritsar creating a poster shortly before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections showing Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and Narendra Modi (HT photo/Sameer Sehgal)

Perfected over time, this model is equally applicable to the ongoing attempts at joint action by parties opposed to Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Political formations with competing legislative ambitions must share space nationally while fighting to hold ground in their respective regional strongholds.

History shows us that such complex arrangements are doable. The anti-Congress sentiment that drove earlier experiments had seen even the BJP and the Left in a proximate alliance as outside supporters of the 1989-90 VP Singh government. The politico-ideological terrain was altered radically by the rise of Hindutva in the 1990s, coupled with short-lived anti-BJP coalitions and the Congress’s concomitant weakening. The rallying call now is against the BJP’s majoritarian-nationalism which represents an existential threats to the occupants, big and small, of the so-called secular space.

It is in this context that the Congress must seek a solution for its tussle for political/electoral space with the new kid on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party, which grew at its expense in Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat. The temptation to recoup lost ground against an adversary enfeebled by graft charges explains the Delhi Congressmen’s demand for ‘no truck’ with Arvind Kejriwal.

But can the Congress high command allow itself to be persuaded by such a short-term, partisan approach? On the table before it is the need for a nationally constructed bulwark against BJP’s action in overturning a Supreme Court verdict, through the Ordinance route to deny an elected government the control over bureaucracy in Delhi.

At risk aren’t just the prospects of AAP but of the federal scheme in our Constitution. The question has arisen at a time the Congress hopes to be the fulcrum of any formal or tacit Opposition front against the BJP in the upcoming 2024 polls.

No other option On the face of it, the party has no option but to do what is often does in West Bengal. It must let its party officials in Delhi, as also in Punjab and Gujarat chart out independent local strategies without allowing their stance to influence its position on an issue with a direct bearing on Centre-State relations. The AAP has a valid case against the BJP and the Congress cannot afford to not back it.

In the not-too-distant past, Kejriwal had been savagely critical of the Congress leadership, especially of its first family. But there aren’t any permanent friends or enemies in politics. The adage came true when Kejriwal opposed Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as a Member of Parliament, calling it the Modi regime’s “dictatorial” action to suppress the Opposition’s voice.

Amid allegations of corruption entailing identical disqualification possibilities against his close associates, the AAP leader’s support for Rahul could’ve been informed by Martin Niemoller’s famous lines: “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak because I was not a socialist...” That also leads one to the other maxim of an enemy’s enemy being a friend in politics.

The BJP is prone to dismiss the envisioned Opposition line-up as an “alliance for corruption.” But, in reality, its muscular politics is the glue that joins parties that do not see eye-to-eye on a host of issues. Either they hang together or get prepared to get hanged separately. That’s the ringing message across the non-BJP political spectrum in the wake of probe agencies’ wholesale crackdown. At the receiving end it is not just AAP but also the Trinamool Congress, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress party besides the Congress itself.

Comparisons are inadvisable, yet one cannot help but compare the BJP-Opposition stand-off with the post-Emergency politics of the 1970s. That was when political parties that were poles apart merged to form the Janata Party. While something exactly like that happening now is improbable, the harder the BJP-led government cracks down on the Opposition, the tougher their resolve will be to explore a Modus Vivendi to set up straight contests to avoid division of the anti-BJP vote.

A reassuring move in that direction could be the anti-BJP parties’ combined push in the Rajya Sabha against the Ordinance which has to be legislated as a law within six weeks of Parliament assembling for the Monsoon session. From the Opposition’s perspective, the issue even merited a show of solidarity against the PM inaugurating the Parliament instead of the President.

The Congress must not be subservient to the anxieties of its regional units. A balance has to be struck and maturity must be shown by all stakeholders from the north to the south and the east to the west, to put their shoulders to the wheel. That is if they’re serious about giving the BJP a good fight!

Editor's note: The introduction to the article was amended to replace the word ‘alliance’ with 'compact' to avoid any confusion. The Congress and Left do not have a formal alliance at present.

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