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‘Rahul Gandhi can hug PM Modi, but can’t call Kejriwal’: AAP blames Congress for RS loss

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Party calls Congress the biggest obstacle to opposition unity, says it is the reason why AAP MPs abstained from Rajya Sabha vote.

New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Thursday singled out the Congress as the reason behind its decision to abstain from voting in the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election, in a further sign of the growing rift between the two parties.

AAP leaders attributed their decision to Congress president Rahul Gandhi refusing to engage with the party, saying he didn’t call Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, seeking support for Congress candidate B.K. Hariprasad.

“Rahul Gandhi can hug Prime Minister Narendra Modi but can’t make a call to our leader Arvind Kejriwal. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar called Kejriwal seeking support for their candidate. But Rahul Gandhi did not,” said AAP MP Sanjay Singh.

“They don’t need our votes. We supported them in the president and vice presidential elections but they didn’t have the courtesy to thank us. The Congress is the biggest obstacle to opposition unity.”

Also read: Meet Harivansh, the journalist who is now Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha

The AAP has three Rajya Sabha MPs, all of whom didn’t take part in voting Thursday. Sanjay Singh said that AAP would have voted for any candidate who was not from the Congress.

“When it was a Congress candidate, they should have at least asked us for our votes. They can’t take us for granted,” he said.

A test for opposition unity

In the recent past, the AAP has on several occasions attempted to board the opposition train but its efforts have been hampered by the Congress.

After the last Parliament session, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi invited all opposition party leaders for dinner but left out those from AAP. When the Congress minority department organised an Iftar party later, the party once again did not reach out to Kejriwal.

It is in stark contrast to the attitude of other opposition leaders, who appear keener to get the Delhi chief minister on board.

Every time West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mamata Banerjee visits Delhi, she makes it a point to meet Kejriwal.

Last week, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav had invited all the opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal, to Jantar Mantar, where he was protesting against the alleged sexual exploitation at a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur.

But the protest was planned in such a manner that Rahul and Kejriwal wouldn’t meet or share the stage. The Delhi chief minister arrived at around 6.40 pm and was quickly handed the microphone to speak. In the meantime, Congress leaders present kept Rahul’s aide Kaushal Vidyarthi abreast of developments at the venue. The moment Kejriwal stepped off stage, Rahul’s convoy reached Jantar Mantar.

The Congress’ grouse

The Congress’s grouse against AAP stems from the 2015 Delhi elections when the then fledgeling party ensured the defeat of senior Congress leaders, and the anti-corruption movement during UPA II.

The party still feels that Kejriwal tried every bit to discredit the Congress leadership for political gains.

Congress leaders also point to the fact that they did initially reach out to AAP. During the 2013 assembly elections, while the BJP emerged as the largest party with 31 of the 70 seats, AAP stood second with 28 seats and Congress came a distant third with 8 seats. The Congress, however, supported the AAP government from the outside before pulling out later.

The decision to support AAP, says Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken, was taken even without the party asking for it.

“AAP says politics doesn’t run on egos. Yet Arvind Kejriwal is sulking because he didn’t get a call from Rahul Gandhi and thus helped the BJP. Using this logic in 2013, BJP would have formed the government in Delhi and AAP would have been history,” Maken tweeted.

“In the Rajya Sabha, AAP supported the BJP on the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice? Why are they supporting the BJP by selectively fielding candidates against the Congress?” Maken asked.

The ground reality

In the 2014 Parliamentary elections, AAP finished second, relegating the Congress to third place in all the seven Lok Sabha seats in New Delhi.

In the 2015 assembly elections, Congress couldn’t win a single seat, when AAP won 67 of the 70 seats in the national capital.

According to sources in the Congress and AAP, both parties realise that they need each other if they want to win any seat in Delhi in 2019.

“It is difficult for the party to win seats in Delhi without aligning with AAP,” says a Congress leader.

“The way Congress is trying to align with Mayawati, they should try to align with the AAP too,” says former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who has been trying to unite opposition parties against the BJP before 2019. “After all, AAP is a force in Delhi and no one can deny the fact. Everyone should keep their differences aside in order to make a convincible alliance against the BJP.”

Also read: Today’s lesson for Rahul Gandhi: Anti-BJPism won’t be good enough for 2019

Sources told ThePrint that AAP wants a 4-3 or 3-4 formula in Delhi along with the seats in won in Punjab the last time.

In fact, Kejriwal has met Sharad Yadav, former JD(U) leader, in the past few months over the talk of a grand alliance against the BJP.

But Congress leaders dismiss speculation of an alliance in Punjab. “AAP will be decimated in the coming elections,” says a senior Congress leader from Punjab. “Why should we ally with a party that doesn’t have any heft in the state?”

The Congress has authorised its party president to take a decision on the possibility of an alliance.

Sources told ThePrint that the Congress is not thinking about Delhi at the moment and if at all something can be worked out, it will only be after sorting out alliances in other crucial states. “First AAP has to realise that they are not a national party,” says a Congress leader.

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