It's now official, finally. There will be no alliance between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. This is a setback for both the parties since they now have to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party individually. The BJP had swept all the seven seats on offer in 2014 and is sitting pretty now, given the division of its anti-votes.
The failure to strike an alliance is a reflection of the larger problems that the opposition faces in formulating a coalition to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party at the national level.
After various aborted attempts at a national-level alliance, there had been a realisation that the most pragmatic way to prevent the BJP from retaining power was to form state-level alliances.
Thus, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party came together in Maharashtra, the Congress and the National Conference structured a deal in Jammu & Kashmir, the JD (S) and the Congress maintained their partnership in Karnataka despite problems, the Congress struck a coalition with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and the Samajwadi Party and the BSP - otherwise bitterly opposed to each other - aligned in Uttar Pradesh. It was expected that, along the same lines, the AAP and the Congress would join hands in Delhi. The idea was to somehow short-circuit Modi and his party and work out an arrangement post-poll results.
The manner in which the situation unfolded over the weeks in Delhi does no credit to either the Congress or the AAP. All through this time, conflicting signals were sent out, giving the impression that neither of them was approaching the challenge with maturity. But the AAP came out worse because it was seen as the more desperate party to reach an understanding.
It was repeatedly snubbed by the Congress and yet it continued to send feelers. Once Sheila Dikshit became Delhi's Congress, it became near certain that no deal would be made. Dikshit was vehemently opposed to an understanding with the AAP, given the history of conflict between her and AAP supremo and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Her lobby made it known to the high command that the party would be better off fighting alone. There were two reasons for this stand. The first was that the Congress is expecting a surge in its popularity as compared to 2014 and wanted to cash in on it, without surrendering seats to an alliance partner. The second was that Dikshit and her people were worried about the adverse public reaction to an AAP-Congress partnership - after all, the AAP was born out of an anti-corruption movement directed against a Congress-led regime at the Centre.
Despite her stature, Dikshit's opinion may well have been ignored, had the AAP not insisted on an understanding with the Congress for Haryana as part of the Delhi deal. The Congress was in no mood to accommodate Kejriwal's party in the neighbouring state because it saw no political gain for itself since the AAP has only a scattered presence in Haryana.
The Congress also realised that Kejriwal was seeking to spread his wings by riding piggyback on the Congress and eventually weakening its presence in those regions.
It appears from media reports that Congress president Rahul Gandhi favoured an alliance with the AAP in Delhi, and his point man PC Chacko was burning the midnight oil to make this happen. But Chacko had come up against a resolute Dikshit - though, for the record, the former Chief Minister said she would abide by the high command's final decision.
That said, the fact is that Congress has seen itself pushed out of coalition arrangements in a few key states. In Uttar Pradesh, which sends the highest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, it was kept out of the SP-BSP-RLD combine. It has failed to stitch an alliance with regional players in Haryana. Its understanding with Chandrababu Naidu's TDP in the Telangana state polls has collapsed, both in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
And it could not reach an agreement with the Left Front in West Bengal to take on an entrenched Trinamool Congress and a resurgent BJP. To add to its woes, the Congress has been pushed down the pecking order in the past years by the BJP even in states where it had been an important opposition - such as in Odisha and West Bengal, and even the North-East where it has not been able to work out deals with powerful regional outfits to take on the BJP and its allies who are part of the North-East Democratic Alliance.
With a three-way contest now certain in Delhi, the major contenders have decided to play it safe, more or less banking on tested candidates. While the AAP has projected most of its senior faces, the BJP has made only slight changes, such as including cricketer Gautam Gambhir as a candidate. The Congress too has relied on the old faces. If the BJP wins resoundingly, the AAP and the Congress will blame each other for their rout. If the BJP is contained, both will seek to corner the credit to themselves.
(This piece was originally published on wionews.com)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)