Congress’ Candidate List For Delhi Promises Some Close Contests
The party released its first list for the ongoing parliamentary elections from Delhi, ending all speculation about an alliance with AAP. The biggest name in the list is former chief minister Sheila Dikshit who will contest from North East Delhi constituency.
The Congress, on April 22nd, released a list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections from Delhi. With this development, all talk of an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi has been muted. The stage is set for an interesting contest in the national capital.
The first thing that pops out from the Congress list is that former chief minister of Delhi and the chief of the state unit of the party, Sheila Dikshit, is going to contest. She is the party’s candidate from the North East Delhi constituency. Apart from her, Congress announced candidates for six of the seven seats in Delhi. Her predecessor in the state unit, Ajay Maken, will contest from New Delhi. Arvinder Singh Lovely will contesting from East Delhi, JP Agarwal from Chandni Chowk, Rajesh Lilothia from North West Delhi, and Mahabal Mishra from West Delhi.
The only seat the party is yet to declare is South Delhi. According to media reports, the party had planned to field Ramesh Kumar, the brother of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, from the seat. Sajjan Kumar is an accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and the decision sparked a backlash from Sikh groups. Apart from this, a surprising omission from the list is Congress leader, Kapil Sibal. Chandni Chowk has been his traditional seat.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also announced candidates for some of the seats. With the Congress declaring its lists, some promising and potentially close fights are shaping up. One is North East Delhi where Dikshit will take on Manoj Tiwari, president of the state unit of the BJP. AAP has fielded Dilip Pandey from the seat. Another promising encounter is going to take place in the West Delhi constituency; BJP's Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma will take on Congress heavyweight Mahabal Mishra. Balbir Singh Jakhar is contesting that seat for AAP.
So, how does this affect the political landscape of Delhi? Prior to this announcement, there was much speculation that AAP and Congress would form an alliance in Delhi. AAP openly solicited an alliance with the party with senior leaders going on record to state so. While the party has an overwhelming majority in the State Assembly, it failed to open an account in the 2014 parliamentary elections from Delhi. The BJP swept all seven seats in that election. In most of the seats, AAP was a distant second. An alliance between AAP and Congress was expected to give the BJP a tough fight and prevent another clean sweep of seats from the state.
However, the question to ask here is how effective would have alliance been electorally? While on a paper this is a strong alliance, how would it translate on the ground? To understand that, the past needs to be examined, more specifically how the AAP came into being. The party was born out of the anti- corruption movement, spearheaded by social activist Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption (IAC) in 2011 and 2012. The main party in both Centre and State was the Congress so the movement ended up in opposition to it. AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was part of IAC.
In 2012, the IAC splintered into two factions over the question of how to engage with the political establishment. One faction, led by Hazare, wished to stay out of the political system while the other, led by Kejriwal, wanted to engage and take part in electoral politics. The second faction later emerged as AAP. The corruption cases that became issues for them were the 2G scam, nationally, and the Commonwealth Games scam in Delhi. Both involved the Congress.
In Delhi, AAP took on the CWG scam case in a major way. The scam allegedly took place in 2010 when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games. The party used this to particularly target Dikshit, who was chief minister at the time. This has contributed to creating animosity between the two leaders which might have contributed to the failure of attempts to build an alliance between the two parties. Then there was the 49-day government that AAP formed with conditional support from the Congress, following the 2013 Assembly elections. This also contributed to mistrust and animosity between the two parties.
So, how far would this alliance made sense? Since it has not materialised yet, one can only speculate. However, there are similar situations in other parts of the country which could offer some insight. In Karnataka, the alliance between the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) offers some clues. The two are fighting the election in alliance but have been traditional rivals. This reflected on the ground in some constituencies, particularly Mandya. In Mandya, Congress workers openly refused to work in the JD(S) candidate and there were clashes between supporters of the two parties.
Conversely, there is also evidence that an alliance between bitter rivals can work. Uttar Pradesh has witnessed an extraordinary alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The two parties have been bitter rivals and had an acrimonious relationship before they settled their differences and came together. They seem to be able to work together, as witnessed in the first two phases of the elections.