AAP-Congress Alliance Is Good Optics, But It Can Confuse Voters

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It’s been a week of good news for supporters of the I.N.D.I.A bloc after a series of setbacks in West Bengal, Punjab and Bihar. Last week, after sealing the deal with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress finalised a seat-sharing pact with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in five states / Union Territories covering 46 seats. The Congress, whose governments were dislodged in Delhi and Punjab by the AAP, has accommodated Arvind Kejriwal’s party to put up a united front against the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. 

The hopes of an AAP-INC alliance materialising in Delhi were initially dashed after the two parties decided to contest separately in Punjab. However, to give credit to the leadership of the two parties, they finally found their way through tough seat-sharing talks. 

Congress Willing To ‘Accommodate’

The Congress has displayed a bigger heart, which many analysts over the last few months have accused it of lacking. It has accepted a smaller number of seats in Delhi – three – despite having received a higher vote share in the 2019 general election.

In Haryana, it has conceded one seat to the AAP, where it has a limited presence, and in Gujarat, it has given away two seats. The AAP had made a scintillating debut in Gujarat in the 2022 assembly polls, bagging a 13% vote share and helping the BJP secure a record victory of 150-plus seats. 

However, in Goa, the AAP will support the Congress despite its decent presence. It’s the same in Chandigarh, where the AAP now has a Mayor. 

The deal has faced some opposition from the Congress’s local leadership in states. The party has been reduced to almost zero seats in Delhi since the AAP’s rise, and has lost around 35% votes since 2008. The AAP’s share of over 50% has largely come from the Congress’s 70% and other parties’ 30% votes.

AAP Has Grown At Congress’s Expense In Punjab, Gujarat, Delhi

In Punjab, the Congress’s vote share has dropped from 40% in 2012 to 23% in 2022. The Akali Dal’s share dropped from 35% to 19% during the same period. The AAP, in turn, having made a dent in both these parties’ voting segments, currently commands a 42% vote share, with which it swept the state in 2022 winning 92 of the total 117 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share, meanwhile, has stayed unaffected at around 7% during this period. Ultimately though, no deal has been finalised for Punjab, with both the Congress and the AAP contesting independently for its 13 seats. 

In Gujarat, the Congress got a 27% vote share in 2022, 15 percentage points less than in 2017. All of this was bagged by the AAP, which in a debut of sorts ended up bagging a 13% vote share. 

In effect, the Congress seems to have made peace with a party that has grown at its own expense in Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat. The AAP’s presence has helped the BJP in Gujarat, as well as in Goa to some extent. While in Delhi and Punjab, it has snatched power from the Congress. 

The Original Anti-Corruption Plank

In fact, the AAP’s parent organisation, India Against Corruption, was born out of corruption allegations against the UPA-II. Its politics was largely anti-Congress in the beginning, a stance that has today shifted to opposing the BJP as it occupies the pole position today. 

Strategists believe that since both parties have complementary vote blocks, the transfer of votes would be seamless. Optics-wise. the alliance is good as it comes after a series of setbacks for I.N.D.I.A. 

Electorally, however, the alliance may not have a significant impact in Gujarat, where the BJP’s vote share is very high, and in Haryana, where the AAP has no demonstrated support. In Delhi though, where the combined vote share of the AAP and the Congress is less than the BJP’s, the alliance can have a decent impact if the BJP doesn’t change its candidates, against many of whom anti-incumbency is brewing.

The CPI(M)-Congress Experiment

What the optics nonetheless achieve is that they help build a narrative that I.N.D.I.A is not going to give a free pass to the BJP without a fight. Being allies in one state and enemies in another creates confusion in the minds of voters. 

The Congress tried a similar experiment in West Bengal with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Main opponents in Kerala, the two had joined hands in West Bengal both in 2016 and 2021. The elections of Kerala and Bengal are conducted around the same time, along with three other states. In both 2016 and 2021, the alliance failed to defeat Mamata Banerjee. In fact, in 2021 it couldn’t win even a single seat, and in 2016, its tally was lower than in 2011. The alliance was repeated in Tripura in 2023, and it again failed to unseat the BJP. The point is, the Congress and the CPI(M) have a long history of rivalry, and hence, when they come, together it doesn’t cut much ice with voters. 

Days Of Pragmatic Politics

Some analysts see the latest developments as an era of pragmatic politics, where even staunch opponents can come together to defeat a common enemy in a particular election while maintaining a safe distance in others. 

While the BJP has been trying to paint this alliance as opportunist, opportunism is perhaps the norm in Indian politics. The BJP’s welcoming of the Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold again, as well as the appointment of Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister in Maharashtra, are all part of practical politics. And so is the AAP-Congress alliance.

However, that’s not the main issue here. This is not the first time such a formula is being tried. However, as the CPI(M)-Congress alliance’s experience says, it’s best not to confuse voters with ties that keep changing according to circumstances. It’s akin to taking voters for a ride. Will the AAP-Congress alliance work in 2024? Janta janardhan hai

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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