NEW DELHI: Just as the opposition looked primed to put up a potentially winning combination against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress party announced on Tuesday it would fight the April-May general elections without a key critic of Mr Modi, and not go into an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi.
The Congress has made up with some other key rivals to coalesce into a united force, for example, Andhra-based Telugu Desam Party. There are reports though that Congress was trying to forge an alliance with the communist-led Left Front in West Bengal to torpedo another solid opponent of Mr Modi, namely the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Congress has also shunned a crucial alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.
It was reportedly poaching members from the two opposition groups considered strong challengers to Mr Modi’s five year rule. Analysts say an essential explanation may lie with the web of advisors around Congress president Rahul Gandhi who are considered close to powerful business groups that have shored up Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr Kejriwal has been an unwavering critic of the influence business clubs wield with Congress, BJP and other parties.
The Congress was “helping the BJP”, Mr Kejriwal tweeted minutes after Congress leader Sheila Dikshit said it was an “unanimous decision” by the state party, which has been accepted by Mr Gandhi.
AAP, which had earlier announced candidates for six of Delhi’s seven seats, had indicated it was open for negotiations. It also had kept options ready for seat sharing, keeping in mind various scenarios.
In Delhi, Mr Kejriwal had earlier said the Congress was unwilling to ally with his party in Delhi and he was “fed up” with reaching out to the party.
Soon after, at a press conference, senior AAP leader Gopal Rai said the Congress was “committed to helping the BJP”.
“For the Congress, the party is bigger than the nation. As in Punjab, the BJP helped the Congress in defeating the AAP, the Congress is doing the same in Delhi,” Mr Rai said.
Mr Gandhi’s meeting with the state party chiefs came after a fresh nudge from Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and is part of a larger recalibration of the opposition strategy following the fadayin attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama and the Indian air strikes in Balakot.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2019