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Congress key panel firms up poll plans, leaders voice concern on AAP tie-up

By, Hyderabad
Sep 18, 2023 12:33 AM IST

The resentment underlined how the Congress as well as the INDIA alliance face steep hurdles at the state level ahead of negotiations on seat-sharing.

The Congress on Sunday announced that it is “fully ready for the battle ahead” and expressed confidence that the people of India want change, after two days of intense deliberations in the Congress Working Committee, whose extended panel met on Sunday to strategise for the upcoming elections.

Hyderabad: (L-R) Congress leaders Pawan Khera, P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh duirng a press conference after the CWC meeting.(PTI)
Hyderabad: (L-R) Congress leaders Pawan Khera, P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh duirng a press conference after the CWC meeting.(PTI)

The meetings, however, saw at least three Congress leaders from Delhi and Punjab express strong reservations against any pact for Lok Sabha seats with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Congress legislative party chief in Punjab, Partap Singh Bajwa, was most vocal against the AAP as he cautioned that if the state’s ruling party and the main Opposition party come together, “our votes will shift to the Akalis and the BJP.”

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Read here: CWC calls for reservation upper limit to be raised

It was also pointed out that AAP’s plan is to contest elections in states where the fight has traditionally remained between the Congress and the BJP. The critics of the AAP also drew the attention of the party brass to the fact that in these state elections, the AAP invariably attacks the Congress and spares the BJP in its campaign.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had to intervene and assure the wary leaders that no decision would be taken without consulting the party’s state units.

The resentment underlined how the Congress as well as the INDIA alliance face steep hurdles at the state level ahead of negotiations on seat-sharing. The coordination committee of the bloc last week directed all parties to start discussions on seats “at the earliest”.

At the beginning of the extended CWC meeting, which was attended by all members, chief ministers, PCC presidents and legislative party leaders, Kharge said, “The Congress party laid the foundation of the Constitution and democracy and the responsibility of protecting them also lies with the Congress.”

He added that 2024 marks the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi becoming Congress president and removing the BJP from power next year “will be a true tribute to Mahatma Gandhi”. Kharge, in whose tenure the Congress has won two assembly polls so far, asked party leaders to “continuously raise” basic issues, expose the “shortcomings and anti-people policies” of the BJP and reminded the party “the Modi government does politics of distracting and diverting people from their basic issues by bringing new issues”.

At the extended CWC meeting, the Congress resolution exuded confidence of winning all the five assembly states. “The Congress party meeting of the Extended Congress Working Committee concludes by expressing its confidence that the Indian National Congress will receive a decisive mandate from the people of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana in the assembly elections that will be held shortly,” it said.

The Congress also announced that it will fulfil people’s expectations on “law and order, freedom, social and economic justice, equality and equity” — indicating its thrust areas in its pitch for power in 2024.

“It also reaffirms the preparedness of the party organisation for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, which are due in April-May 2024. The Congress party is fully ready for the battle ahead. It is confident that the people of our country are wanting change. We will fulfil their expectations of law and order, freedom, social and economic justice, equality and equity,” the resolution of the extended CWC said on Sunday.

But differences over the AAP came out in the open during the two-day deliberations. On Saturday, former Union minister from Delhi Ajay Maken cautioned the top leadership that any alliance with the AAP would not be fruitful as “they will not help us”.

On Sunday, Bajwa led the charge against the AAP, dishing out data to show that the Congress must go it alone in Punjab. “He was the most vocal against the AAP. Bajwa also said that the alliance between the ruling party and the main Opposition party would result in votes shifting from the Congress to the BJP and the Akali Dal,” said a leader present in the meeting.

Kharge, according to leaders present in the meeting, intervened at this stage and said, “This is not the meeting for seat-sharing.”

Delhi chief Arvinder Singh Lovely also spoke against the AAP but he was not as aggressive as the others, said a senior leader.

Several leaders spoke about sticking to people’s issues and how the Congress got a head start on the campaign for 2024 through the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the INDIA alliance. According to insiders, leaders including Abhishek Singhvi said that the abuse of federal agencies by the BJP should be a key election plank.

He also cautioned the leaders that the BJP could resort to manipulative tactics such as declaring early elections or usurping scarce resource through electoral bonds. “Don’t fall for the Sanatana Dharma debate. We will not play on their ground. We should focus on basic issues such as price rise and unemployment,” Singhvi said in the meeting.

The reservation among a section of the Congress also comes amid the INDIA alliance’s efforts to wrap up seat-sharing talks at the earliest.

On September 13, the INDIA bloc’s coordination committee asked the state units to start seat negotiations that would cover the upcoming assembly polls and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. While the committee announced that seat talks should conclude “at the earliest”, two leaders added that the state units will be informally asked to finish the talks by the end of October.

Earlier, in the Mumbai meeting of the Opposition parties on September 1, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal was among four leaders — the others included West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar — who pushed for early completion of seat adjustments.

Read here: Kharge tells extended CWC not to praise PM unnecessarily

A Delhi-based Congress leader told HT that in both Delhi and Punjab, “the Congress unit would be decimated if we enter into any seat pacts with the AAP”.

“If you look at both states, the AAP has won primarily at the cost of the Congress. Our cadres will be demoralised. In the past, the AAP contested in states such as Goa and even in Karnataka to ate into the Congress vote share,” the leader said.

While the AAP has informally agreed to give two seats to the Congress in Delhi, seat negotiations are expected to be tough for the alliance in Delhi, Punjab and West Bengal.

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