Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Image Credit: ANI

It is curious the Aam Aadmi Party is a member of the INDIA alliance, given that they had promised to be a fresh new force in Indian politics. Now they want to be one of the 28 parties in a national alliance.

While all alliances are tactical, they have to be somewhat convincing to the masses. It is strange that the AAP is contesting against Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

So why are they part of the INDIA alliance? It is a contradiction that AAP wants to contest against Congress in three states, while it wants to be with Congress for the Lok Sabha. The AAP and even the Congress need to explain this contradiction to voters.

The spirit of an alliance is one of mutual alignment in terms of political space, if not ideology. Everyone in electoral politics is chasing power, but even the quest for power needs a convincing case. To be one thing in December ‘23 and another in ‘24 is jarring.

Looking Jaipur, Talking Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is contesting all seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Votes won by the AAP could damage Congress or BJP, but they are more likely to damage Congress.

Despite ideological flip-flops by the AAP, it is seen to be against BJP in the political space. It is obvious why AAP wants to be part of the INDIA alliance. At a time when they are under great pressure from the Modi government and the BJP, they wanted the shelter of a national alliance.

They threw tantrums when Congress was dilly-dallying on opposing the Delhi services bill in parliament. They got their way. They were again upset when Delhi Congress leaders hinted they could contest Delhi’s 7 Lok Sabha seats without an alliance. It is clear that today the AAP needs the Congress, as well as the larger INDIA alliance.

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We may even ignore their spokespersons’ off-the-cuff statements that Arvind Kejriwal should be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the INDIA alliance.

But if AAP needs Congress, why is the Congress letting itself be attacked by the AAP in the three Hindi heartland states where elections are due this December?

One could say that the AAP is an irrelevant force in these states. Sure, but it was even more irrelevant in Karnataka where it won more votes than the winning margin on at least three seats the BJP won.

The story of 3 seats

The Congress won Karnataka by a landslide, but 3-4 seats can be a game changer in a close election. Remember how close both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were in 2018. How many votes and seats the AAP can win in these 3 bipolar states is one issue.

What they say in their campaign, and how they are attacking the Congress and BJP together, damages the Congress by increasing negative sentiment against the party. It is quite likely the BJP will benefit more from the AAP’s attacks than the AAP itself.

The AAP could argue they are attaching the BJP and Congress both, in these states. Yes, but why attack Congress if you are part of the INDIA alliance?

They might argue Congress won’t give it any seats to contest in these seats. Correct. Why should Congress share seats with AAP in a state where AAP has no presence? In a multiparty democracy, the AAP has the right to contest any election it likes, against anyone. But then why be part of the INDIA alliance?

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leader Rahul Gandhi, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal during the Opposition leaders' meeting, in Patna

AAP needs Congress

The AAP knows it’s going to win single-digit Lok Sabha seats at best, and that too from only one state, Punjab. It won zero seats in Delhi in both 2014 and 2019. In other words, the AAP can only gain a few votes in the Lok Sabha by being part of the INDIA alliance. They have nothing to lose.

The AAP-Congress relationship via the INDIA alliance looks loaded in favour of AAP. It is not clear what the Congress is getting out of it. At best the AAP could help the Congress win a Lok Sabha seat or two in Delhi and Punjab combined.

It is true that symbolically it looks like Congress has one less party cutting its votes in Lok Sabha. But why not have the same bargain for the Vidhan Sabha?

Can Congress neutralise AAP?

The Congress is not only driving a poor bargain, it could be making a historic mistake. Remember that the AAP’s long-term ambition is to replace the Congress. It has not only defeated the Congress in Punjab but it is using the law to go after Punjab Congress leaders in a way that it claims the BJP is doing at the centre.

The AAP has also taken a substantial chunk of 13% Congress votes in Gujarat, and even wants to hurt the Congress in Telangana, where the Congress’ prospects are beginning to look up for the first time since the state’s creation.

None of this is to say that AAP and Congress should not have an alliance, but it has to look like one.