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While leaders fight over Kejriwal, Congress may be working as per a well-crafted strategy to form govt in 2024: Here is how

With the Congress party losing its ideological purity more and more with each passing day, and its leader being Rahul Gandhi who is bound to lose in a personality contest between him and Narendra Modi, Congress seems to be making political deposits that will be encashed when it is time to stitch an alliance at the centre.

The Delhi Assembly election results were along expected lines, with the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Admi Party (AAP) getting a sweeping majority and BJP while increasing its vote share and number of seats to 8, failing to make its mark in the national capital. While the conversation post results surrounded around the sweeping victory of Arvind Kejriwal led AAP and the rout of BJP, one important aspect was pushed under the rug – Congress scored a big, fat zero in Delhi elections. In fact, Congress lost its deposit in 63 of the 66 seats it contested. Election rules say that if a candidate receives less than 16.67% of votes polled in a constituency, they have to forfeit the deposit paid at the time of nomination.

For a national party that is considered the dominant political force in the country to win no seats in Delhi was alarming, to say the least. The obvious reaction of the people was that Congress has reduced itself to a spent force that is incapable of winning elections. However, the reactions that have emerged from the party leaves one befuddled. The Congress top brass seems to be almost in a celebratory mode while the tier 2 and tier 2 leaders have maintained that Delhi elections spell disaster for Congress.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who is currently out-on-bail said, “AAP won, bluff and bluster lost. The people of Delhi, who are from all parts of India, have defeated the polarising, divisive and dangerous agenda of the BJP I salute the people of Delhi who have set an example to other states that will hold their elections in 2021 and 2022”.

Read: Congress leaders can’t make up their mind whether to love or hate Kejriwal, Maken attacks Deora

While Chidambaram celebrated, Jairam Ramesh said, “It is an unmitigated disaster like coronavirus for the Congress”.

At the same time, Milind Deora took to Twitter to say, “Sharing a lesser-known & welcome fact — the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government doubled its revenues to ₹60,000 crore & maintained a revenue surplus over the last 5 years. Food for thought: Delhi is now one of India’s most fiscally prudent governments”. Milind Deora was then slammed by Congress leader Radhika Khera who said that senior leaders of Congress seem to be better at patting AAP’s back than encouraging own party leaders. 

With every election, a political party is put through the ultimate test. Especially in the current times where elections have become more a battle of ideologies than simply the quality of campaigning. In such a scenario, for the Congress honchos to be almost in a celebratory mode does not seem consistent. One would have ideally expected the Congress party to introspect and wonder what went wrong.

During Delhi elections, the Congress campaign was lacklustre. It was almost as if the Congress party had given up much before the campaign trail even started. The result was obvious with Congress getting zero seats, with majority candidates losing their deposits.

In Maharashtra too, Congress performed abysmally. Amongst the 4 major parties contesting, namely BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP, Congress came 4th. Getting around 15% votes and about 44 seats. Congress, that has been fighting “Hindutva” ideologically, allied with ideological disparate Shiv Sena along with NCP. While most people thought that their aim was to simply grab power and even lucrative ministries, the criticism of ideological compromise accrued not only to Shiv Sena but also Congress.

Read: Congress’ Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena hails Arvind Kejriwal ahead of Delhi elections in its mouthpiece

Amidst celebration in the Congress camp, even after loss, a statement that lifted the cloud on the Congress strategy emerged.

Rajya Sabha member backed by the Congress, KTS Tulsi hinted towards a “possible” AAP-Congress alliance. He alleged that the grand old party sacrificed itself to prevent “splitting of votes” that might have case advantage for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Delhi Assembly elections.

“If the Congress had also equally applied force in the campaign, it would have resulted in BJP’s win. It may be a tactical move, but I don’t know. Media people suggest there was an informal understanding to prevent splitting up of votes,” KTS Tulsi told news agency ANI.

The Rajya Sabha MP complained that the BJP was doing politics of hatred and stated it was important that the BJP was rebuffed roundly for the same. In fact, BJP had earlier hinted towards a possible alliance between AAP and Congress as well.

Read: Congress MP KTS Tulsi exposes secret AAP-Congress alliance for Delhi polls, says Congress made a sacrifice to prevent BJP win

One theory that seems to emerge is that Congress is simply happy to defeat BJP ideologically and electorally. In BJP’s defeat, even if essentially they increased their vote-share, Congress finds a long term chance of survival which is impossible if BJP keeps winning.

However, with Maharashtra and the seeming tacit understanding between AAP and Congress for Delhi, one has to wonder if Congress is working as per a plan that gives them far more benefit than just short term victory or the pleasure of defeating BJP.

One has to remember that the modern-day Congress is not adept at getting a full majority at the centre. After Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Congress has never managed to form the central government with full majority. Nehru’s thumping victory can also be discounted since it was the first few times elections were being held in the country and the people had no better alternative. Congress had had 6 Prime Minister and ruled the country for almost 54 years, however, the duration for which it ruled with a clear majority was a mere fraction.

Read: Arvind Kejriwal shields Congress and even gets facts wrong as he tweets about Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi

It is thus safe to conclude that Congress, by virtue of its ideological impurity, the demonisation of Hindus, Muslim appeasement and misgovernance, needs state-level allies if it ever wishes to rule the country again.

The Delhi elections specifically need to be seen with this prism, much like the Maharashtra elections.

While keeping BJP out of power is one aspect that the Congress party is clearly focussing on, another aspect could very well be Congress consolidating regional powers for Lok Sabha elections 2024.

In Delhi, if the Congress tacitly threw in its towels even before the game began, and is now patting the back of Arvind Kejriwal led AAP, it could very well earn the favour of AAP and thus, expect the regional party to support the UPA alliance that is bound to take shape right before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Further, in Maharashtra, for example, Congress would expect the unflinching loyalty of Shiv Sena since it is because of the Congress party that Uddhav Thackeray could become the Chief Minister of the state.

It is evident from historical evidence that the Congress, more now than ever, is incapable of getting the numbers to form the government on its own. It is thus not unthinkable that this praise that Congress is showering on AAP does not only stem from the fact that AAP managed to defeat BJP but also to ensure that Arvind Kejriwal remains a loyal foot soldier and doesn’t forget the ‘sacrifice’ made by Congress in 2024.

With the Congress party losing its ideological purity more and more with each passing day, and its leader being Rahul Gandhi who is bound to lose in a personality contest between him and Narendra Modi, Congress seems to be making political deposits that will be encashed when it is time to stitch an alliance at the centre. What remains to be seen now is how BJP, led by PM Modi and Amit Shah would counter this inevitable strategy that seems to be taking shape.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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