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Row Over Rajiv Gandhi Dents Kejriwal’s Chances of 2019 Alliance With Congress, Exposes His Divided House

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New Delhi: Arvind Kejriwal’s efforts to forge an alliance with the Congress for 2019 Lok Sabha elections suffered a blow on Friday when a resolution demanding that the late Rajiv Gandhi be stripped off his Bharat Ratna made its way to the Delhi Assembly.

The resolution, moved by the party’s Tilak Nagar MLA Jarnail Singh, demanded justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Interestingly, the last line read out by Singh was not part of the resolution that was circulated among members. It was AAP’s Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti who referred to Rajiv Gandhi in his speech and demanded that the Bharat Ratna be withdrawn.

Fully aware of how the reference could dent the prospect of an alliance with the Congress, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal moved swiftly and asked Bharti why action should not be taken against him.

With the party in hectic damage control mode, Bharti tweeted that it was he who had added the controversial line to the resolution and passed it on to Jarnail Singh who then read it out. AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj, too, clarified that the contentious line was an “amendment” and since it was not put to vote separately, it cannot be read as passed by the House.
As the drama unfolded, it emerged that Kejriwal had also asked AAP’s Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba to resign from the party. While top sources in the party said Lamba had resigned and that her resignation had been accepted, the lawmaker maintained that she was yet to resign formally.

Lamba then made an intriguing claim — that she had opposed the controversial demand of withdrawing Rajiv Gandhi’s Bharat Ratna all along and had in fact walked out of the Assembly by the time the resolution was moved. She has questioned why her resignation was demanded even though she was on the same page as that party and why Somnath Bharti was let off with just a rap on the knuckles.

The controversy has laid bare the AAP’s keenness to have an alliance with the Congress and has also set off speculation that a certain section of the party is opposed to any alliance with the Congress.

Kejriwal had earlier said that the party would take any measure necessary to stop the BJP from returning to power. “I believe the team of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi is dangerous for the country’s present and future. If they come to power in 2019, they will not spare the Constitution, nothing will be left. So it is the responsibility of every patriotic citizen of the country to defeat the team. And to do that, we will take all the measures we can.”

Agreeing with the party chief, AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh had said: “Arvind Kejriwal ji is absolutely right. If some political parties are coming together against the NDA, it is a good thing given the politics of communalism and hatred that is being practised today. There is an attempt to Talibanise Hindustan. It is not important whether the AAP is part of any gathbandhan. What is important is to stop the BJP.”

The AAP has also been under pressure from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and other opposition leaders to move close to the Congress so an anti-BJP bloc takes shape for 2019. Most recently, DMK president MK Stalin had urged AAP to shed its “anti-Congressism”.

Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi have not only shared the same stage twice recently, but have also exchanged pleasantaries — a significant thaw in the deeply adversarial relationship between the two parties.

The road to friendship, however, is not an easy one. At least three members of the AAP’s Political Affairs Committee, who are not in the electoral fray are opposed to any alliance with the Congress. In the eventuality of an alliance, the most difficult decision would be who among the six prabharis or constituency in-charge, a euphemism for 2019 candidates, will have to be axed. All six have been campaigning in their constituencies for six months now.

For instance, the AAP has already announced Atishi as East Delhi constituency in-charge. Would it be ready to give away East Delhi to the Congress, which used to be Sheila Dikshit’s son Sandeep Dikshit’s constituency? Or New Delhi from where Ajay Maken was the MP twice and AAP’s Brajesh Goyal is the prabhari?

Would it be ready to sacrifice either Raghav Chadha from South Delhi, Pankaj Gupta from Chandni Chowk or Dilip Pandey from North East? West Delhi in-charge Rajpal Solanki withdrew from the fray and the AAP is yet to announce a replacement candidate. Significantly, the door for withdrawal of any of these candidates is open as they have still not been declared as official nominees. New Delhi and West Delhi are two constituencies that the AAP may be willing to negotiate in the face of a united opposition candidate.

“There is no discussion. We are all working in our constituencies. The Congress is not a force in Delhi. The Congress did not win the three states. It is the BJP which lost. In Delhi, the AAP is a positive force,” says Pankaj Gupta.

Agreeing with his party colleague, Sanjay Singh says, “In Delhi, there are two forces — AAP and BJP. We are capable of winning on our own.”

Even if the mathematics is right for an alliance, the chemistry is not. The AAP and Congress draw their support from the same social base.

However, the top leadership in the party is aware that if the Congress manages to emulate its MCD elections performance in 2019 polls, then both the AAP and Congress would lose all seven seats and the BJP would sail through. Since the AAP is not expected to be a player on the national scene unlike the Congress, it may not be the preferred choice of voters for Lok Sabha elections in Delhi. The aim is not to “split the anti-BJP vote”. A top PAC leader of the AAP is in constant touch with the Congress over possible alliance between the two.

The other question that crops up is that of Punjab where the AAP and Congress are pitted against each other. What about the 2020 Assembly elections in Delhi? Will the AAP, which has 65 MLAs in the House, cede space to Congress?

In Delhi, the AAP has not forgotten or forgiven the Congress for “standing with the BJP” as it battled the “random” arrest of its lawmakers, the disqualification of its 20 MLAs and the battle over autonomy of the Delhi government.

Last, but certainly for the least, the AAP is yet to be comfortable with the Congress. The latest controversy only adds to that discomfort.





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