The newbie party is playing a key role in paving the way for ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’.


NEW DELHI: While Gujarat has given a massive blow to Congress where it suffered humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections, the grand old party is deriving some solace from the Himachal Pradesh poll results. The clear message of these polls is that the Congress should not take the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lightly. In other words, the newbie party is more harmful for the Congress than the BJP. The AAP has eaten into Congress’ vote bank by siphoning off 13 per cent share in Gujarat, leading to the worst ever performance by the grand old party in the state. The situation is such that the Congress will not get the post of leader of opposition in Gujarat. After Delhi, Punjab and Goa, the AAP has reduced the Congress to virtually nothing in Gujarat as well.
That the AAP has got national party status is another warning for the Congress, as the newbie party may announce Arvind Kejriwal as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Notably, the AAP has been targeting the Congress in every state poll. Its strategy has been to emerge as an alternative to Congress. This is what Kejriwal’s party has done in Gujarat by bagging 13 per cent vote share. In fact, the AAP is entering the states where a bipolar fight between BJP and Congress exists. With this in view, Delhi’s ruling party will now target Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It will prefer not to go to Karnataka and Telangana as other parties are also in fight there. Remarkably, the AAP has also made its presence felt in the civic polls of Madhya Pradesh. It has set up its various units in Chhattisgarh as well.
But the Congress leaders, who used to pass satirical remarks against Arvind Kejriwal once, are still taking his party lightly. It was the Congress which gave the AAP the first opportunity to form a government in Delhi. At the behest of Rahul Gandhi, the eight Congress MLAs had given support to AAP enabling it to form a government that lasted for 49 days. The earlier decision was actually to give support to BJP to stop AAP then. After becoming CM, Kejriwal made populist announcements and later swept the polls in Delhi. The Congress was decimated. After this, there was no looking back for Kejriwal, who defeated Congress in two states in a span of just one decade of politics of AAP. This way, the grand old party got marginalised in the states as well. Congress former president Rahul Gandhi still considers BJP the main rival, ignoring the AAP.
The AAP succeeded in giving the message that the Congress is no force at all in Gujarat and it will get no more than five seats. The grand old party ignored it and went on to target BJP only. Secondly, the Congress started making full efforts only when the half of the polls were over. There was no will-power in the Congress camp, while the AAP was quite aggressive and managed to corner a respectable amount of vote share, and five seats. By celebrating national party status on the day of poll results, the AAP has signalled its national ambition now.
At the same time, the Congress is not looking very euphoric over victory in Himachal. In fact, the party has so many challenges there. The selection of CM and then government formation are the tough tasks. The threat of Operation Lotus is something that the Congress cannot forget. The examples of MP, Goa and Maharashtra are there. The newly-elected Congress president Mallikarjuna Kharge is aware of all this. But he has certain limitations. He is already facing the challenge of striking a balance with three power centres of the Gandhi family. The brainstorming over Gujarat defeat will also be taking place. The party needs to hammer out a strategy to counter the AAP challenge. The AAP’s presence in polls suits BJP, as the saffron party benefits from the newbie outfit eating into Congress.
Ahead of the MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan elections, three north east states and Karnataka will go to polls. AAP is not taking much interest in NE and Karnataka. If, like Himachal, the Congress fights elections in these states, keeping aside infighting, then it can defeat BJP.