INDIA’s Mumbai conclave: AAP confirms participation amid uneasy Congress ties

NEW DELHI: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday confirmed the participation of Aam Aadmi Party in the third meeting of opposition’s INDIA to be held in Mumbai at the end of this month. AAP was a part of the first two meetings held in Patna and Bengaluru.

“Will go to Mumbai. Will share with you the outcome,” Kejriwal told reporters on the sidelines of an event when asked if he would join the upcoming meeting of the opposition parties in Mumbai.

AAP shares an uneasy presence in the opposition alliance given its competing political interests vis-à-vis the Congress in several states.

Last week, the AAP had threatened to boycott the proposed Mumbai meeting over a remark by a Delhi Congress leader that the grand old party was preparing for a strong contest in all the seven seats in 2024 Lok Sabha elections. With AAP reacting strongly to the remark, the Congress was quick to distance itself from the spokesperson’s remark and also issued a clarification.

This is not the first time that the AAP and the Congress have crossed swords. Ahead of the second opposition conclave in Bengaluru, Arvind Kejriwal’s party had announced that it will participate in the meeting only if the Congress makes an open announcement to oppose the Delhi Services Bill in Parliament. The Congress eventually did make a public statement to oppose the Bill. It’s a different matter though that the Bill was passed smoothly in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha despite all INIDA parties backing Kejriwal.

In fact, during the debate on Delhi Services Bill, Union home minister Amit Shah took a swipe at AAP and said once the Delhi services Bill gets Parliament nod, AAP will leave the opposition alliance.

Road ahead will not be easy

The road ahead will not be easy for the two parties as they try and balance their personal interests and political stakes in states with the larger interest of opposition unity at the national level. A glimpse of that was on display in the poll-bound Chhattisgarh yesterday where Arvind Kejriwal unleashed a scathing attack on the Congress government of Bhupesh Baghel.

Taking potshots at the “terrible condition” of schools in Chhattisgarh, Kejriwal said “I was reading a report, government schools in Chhattisgarh are in terrible condition. They have closed many schools in which there used to be 10 classes but one teacher used to be there.” He further added: “Look at the condition of government schools in Delhi or ask your relatives who stay in Delhi. For the first time since Independence, a government has come that is doing so much for the education sector. We are not politicians, we are just common people like you.”

Kejriwal also announced 10 “guarantees” for the people of Chhattisgarh which included Rs 3,000 monthly allowance for the unemployed, a monthly “samman rashi” assistance for women, and free electricity.

The Congress reacted strongly to Kejriwal’s attack. Congress leader Pawan Kheda dared the Delhi chief minister for a debate on the performance of the Congress government vs the AAP government.

AAP is also trying to make inroads in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress and the BJP are the main contenders. The Congress will feel that any division of opposition votes in the state will help the ruling BJP.

Perhaps, the AAP move to enter the political arena in the states where Congress is in a strong position could be a ploy to put pressure on the grand old party to keep away from the states where Kejriwal’s party is dominant – Delhi and Punjab.

The Congress is already facing a lot of resistance from its units in Delhi and Punjab over any tie-up with AAP. Delhi Congress leaders have been vocal in their opposition to Arvind Kejriwal’s party. In Punjab, where the AAP decimated the Congress in the last assembly elections, the leaders of the grand old party fear that any soft approach against Kejriwal’s party will help the Akalis and the BJP usurp the opposition space.

Clearly, the two parties will need to do a lot of balancing to stay together in alliance. AAP is the only party besides the BJP and the Congress that has government in more than one state. It is desperately trying to expand its political footprint and the Congress, with its pan India presence, is an obvious political rival in many states. The Congress on the other hand is working hard to revive the party’s prospects and is also desperate to improve the party’s electoral performance. While both the parties realise the compulsion of joining hands at the national level to oppose the BJP, how they face each other in the states may eventually decide their future in opposition alliance.

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