All Eyes on Delhi: Is the Congress-AAP Joint Show Enough to Shake BJP’s 10-Year Hold?

All Eyes on Delhi: Is the Congress-AAP Joint Show Enough to Shake BJP’s 10-Year Hold?
  • PublishedMay 25, 2024

Once bitter rivals, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have joined hands in a high pitched battle in Delhi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has won all seven seats in Delhi in the last decade. 

While the Congress won all seven seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it failed to open its account in the 2014 and 2019 elections. The AAP, on the other hand, rising to power on the back of an anti-corruption movement against the Congress-led UPA government, has recorded resounding victories in the Delhi state assembly in 2015 (winning 67 of 70 seats) and 2020 (winning 62 of 70 seats). But it has drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha elections since its inception.

As Delhi votes on May 25 in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha elections, the two rivals have joined hands in a seat sharing agreement, where the AAP is contesting four (New Delhi, East Delhi, South Delhi, West Delhi) and Congress three seats (North East, North West and Chandni Chowk seats) respectively as a part of the INDIA alliance.

Former journalist Ashutosh who was a member of the AAP and contested the 2014 elections from Chandni Chowk from the party said that in comparison to 2014 and 2019, it will not be as easy for the BJP in 2024.

“Because these two political parties were contesting separately, there was no collective challenge. This time they are united and fighting together so obviously it will be a tough fight for the BJP. Secondly in 2014 and 2019 BJP did not have any national alternative. But today people in Delhi know that the INDIA gathbandhan [alliance] is here as an alternative,” he said.


An alternative

That the Congress-AAP combine is posing a formidable challenge is not lost on Modi himself who has addressed at least three rallies in the capital in the last week as well as voters who are looking at the INDIA alliance as an alternative after ten years of the BJP government.

“The biggest issue is unemployment. BJP’s only campaign has been to pitch Hindus against Muslims. During elections even rivals become friendly. Here everyone will vote for the AAP because they are in alliance with the Congress. Even if BJP wins we will vote for the alliance,” said Nasir, who works as a mechanic in East Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.

Nasir. Photo: Sravasti Dasgupta.

In East Delhi, AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar is the INDIA alliance’s candidate taking on BJP’s Harsh Malhotra, after sitting MP Gautam Gambhir was denied a ticket.

Shabbir Ali, who owns a steel welding shop in Okhla that also comes under the East Delhi constituency, echoed that the biggest issue is unemployment. 

“You can see that people are just sitting around in their shops. There is no work. The biggest issue is rozgaar [livelihood]. It is not about parties, and who has aligned with whom. It is about saving the country. If the country and the constitution survive, then parties will survive. The Congress and the AAP have also come together for the same reason-survival. We have been Congress supporters for years, but this time we will vote for the AAP candidate.”

While the Congress has built its campaign around issues of unemployment, right to apprenticeship, nationwide caste census and addressing income inequality, the AAP’s campaign which includes its own 10 guarantees, in recent weeks has been focused on chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal who is out on bail to campaign for the elections was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the alleged liquor policy scam. The AAP’s campaign titled “Jail Ka Jawab Vote Se” is riding on a sympathy wave for its party’s national convenor Kejriwal, as well as other top leaders who have been jailed including former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and former health minister Satyendar Jain. AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh who was also jailed in connection with the case is out on bail.

Mohammad Khalid, AAP’s Okhla ward president said that the party is hoping to ride on anti-incumbency as well as emotional attachment to those leaders who have been jailed.

“There is anti-incumbency against the BJP but not against the AAP. Whether it is Sisodia or Kejriwal or even Satyendar Jain everyone is being harassed. There is an emotional attachment with the party as well as our work in Delhi including building schools, mohalla clinics among others. Both AAP and Congress workers are burning the midnight oil and working together, we don’t even need to convince them to do so. All are energised,” he said.

The boost that the AAP received with Kejriwal being released on bail to campaign, suffered a setback when the party’s Rajya Sabha MP and former Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal alleged last week that she had been assaulted inside the chief minister’s residence. Since then the main accused in the case, Kejriwal’s close aide Bibhav Kumar has been arrested. Meanwhile the Delhi police said that they will question Kejriwal’s parents in the case but then deferred it. The move has been termed by the chief minister and the AAP as “harassment” of his elderly ailing parents.

According to Ashutosh, Kejriwal’s release has been an advantage to the INDIA alliance in the national capital but the Swati Maliwal case has had a “neutralising effect”. The BJP though is still not in the clear for a sweep

“Today there is a cohesion in the opposition camp and Kejriwal is campaigning for both the parties and there is better coordination on the ground among workers of both parties. In addition, there is definite anti-incumbency against Modi on corruption and unemployment. I am not saying BJP will draw a blank or won’t win seats but the competition is much tougher this time,” he said.

Wrought with differences, an alliance of compulsion

While the two parties may be working together now, even conducting joint rallies with Kejriwal himself campaigning for Congress candidates, it has not been all smooth sailing for the alliance. Until February, the two parties had failed to arrive at a seat sharing arrangement, with the AAP then offering only one seat to the Congress on the basis of its performance in the 2014, 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2015 and 2020 assembly elections. A fortnight later the two parties announced that their differences had been settled and sealed a seat sharing agreement for Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Goa while deciding to fight solo in Punjab (where the AAP is also in power).

In an interview with The Wire, the alliance’s north east Delhi candidate Kanhaiya Kumar said that the two parties are “working and campaigning together.” 

But the Congress itself has faced a churn within its ranks over the alliance with the AAP. Former party president Arvinder Singh Lovely resigned from the party over tickets being distributed to “strangers” Kumar and Udit Raj for the North East and North West Delhi constituencies respectively, and the alliance with the AAP. On April 23, when the three Congress candidates for Delhi were introduced at a press conference at the party headquarters, party workers protested outside. Following Lovely’s resignation, two former party MLAs Neeraj Basoya and Naseeb Singh also quit the party criticising the alliance with the AAP. Lovely, Basoya and Singh have all since joined the BJP.

Ved Prakash, a Congress worker in north east Delhi’s Dilshad Garden, who had come to attend a joint rally by Kumar and Rahul Gandhi said that those who left the party before elections were “thieves”.

Ved Prakash. Photo: Sravasti Dasgupta.

“Those who have left the Congress were thieves themselves. They think they can leave Congress and will be safe if they join the BJP and so they have left,” he said.

“This alliance is acompulsion. Though we have been Congress supporters we are campaigning for the AAP as well,” he said.

Not just workers, top leaders in the two parties have said that the decision to unite has been driven by a question for survival.

“Now when the country is in danger, democracy is in danger and the constitution is under threat under these circumstances despite the differences we have to fight unitedly. Because the larger issue is not our differences but to save democracy and the constitution,” said North West Delhi candidate Udit Raj in an interview to The Wire.

In an interview with The Wire upon receiving bail from the Supreme Court, AAP MP Sanjay Singh also concurred that the election is about saving democracy.

“There is no doubt that both democracy and the constitution are facing threats. The way in which elected CMs are being arrested, our democracy is in danger,” he said.

The Modi factor

While the AAP and the Congress are seeking votes in the name of saving the constitution, the BJP has crafted its campaign around brand Modi and his “guarantees”. As the party hopes to ride on Modi’s name, it has also sought to fend off any anti-incumbency that it might be facing, by repeating only one of its sitting seven MPs, Manoj Tiwari in North East Delhi. 

Mohammad Zahid Qureshi, a BJP worker in north east Delhi said that alliances like the Congress and the AAP’s won’t work because the country needs a “single leader like Modi.”

The AAP-Congress rally. Photo: Atul Ashok Howale

“These alliances won’t work. If they win, will the country have a different prime minister every six months? Is this how they will run the country? After these elections they will start fighting amongst each other again. The country needs a single leader like Modi. The only seat where there may be a fight is that of J.P Agarwal, because he is an old player. But apart from that there is no fight anywhere,” he said.

In Chandni Chowk, where the INDIA bloc has fielded Congress old hand and former MP Agarwal, to take on BJP’s Praveen Khandelwal who has replaced two-term MP Harsh Vardhan in the constituency, voters said that the two parties coming together poses a challenge the saffron party which has held sway among the trader community in the constituency known for its market.

Mahesh Singh, who works as a cycle rickshaw puller in the market showed an INDIA alliance sticker that he had placed on his vehicle. The sticker stands alongside another that seeks votes in the name of “Modi ki guarantee”.

Singh said that while BJP workers had placed the sticker on his rickshaw, he had tried to pull it out and voluntarily placed the INDIA bloc’s sticker next to it.

“The Congress will get my vote because they are in alliance with the AAP. Kejriwal has done good work in our area in the last decade. It’s not that the Modi government has not done good work but inflation has also increased over the years. But my vote for the gathbandhan won’t matter because ultimately the BJP will win,” he said.

Mohammad Laik, who runs a small electronics repair shop in the area said that while the alliance has given an alternative to voters, it might not be enough to dislodge the BJP’s strong presence.

“The Congress and the AAP coming together has created a challenge but here overwhelmingly people support the BJP,” he said.

Mohit Kumar, who runs a lehenga shop in the Chandni Chowk market said that the alliance will not make a difference.

The AAP-Congress rally in New Delhi. Photo: Atul Ashok Howale

“It’s BJP all the way. People who are talking about unemployment are just trying to make excuses to remove Modi. But there are no such concerns here. It doesn’t matter who has formed what alliance,” he said.

While the AAP is looking to capitalise on its huge victories in Delhi, voting patterns in the last decade show that the voters have chosen differently at the state and central levels. A sentiment that is acknowledged by voters themselves.

“Delhi elections and Lok Sabha elections are different,” said Uday Chand, a resident of Chilla Gaon in Mayur Vihar.

“People tend to vote for AAP in the state and BJP in the centre because Lok Sabha elections are about the country as a whole. Since Modi has come to power there have been no major terror incidents in the country, there has been overall development, roads and highways have been built. BJP has been winning consistently in Delhi because of this and this time too it is about Modi which will help them win,” he said.

While brand Modi remains a factor according to analysts the election in Delhi in 2024 may still not be the cakewalk that the BJP is hoping for, with the contest becoming closer.

“If you look at the 2019 vote share then it is a very difficult task even when AAP and Congress have aligned. Even in absolute numbers the BJP has won by 2 lakh plus votes in 2019 in Delhi. Yes it is a very difficult task even if they have come together but what is happening though is that the contest has become thinner,” said Rahul Verma, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

“If they were contesting separately BJP would have had a cakewalk. But now the contest has become closer; whoever wins will not win by a large margin.”


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