As the Congress gears up for a direct contest with the BJP in the three Hindi heartland states, which the grand old party won five years back in 2018, it will have to contend with the presence of Aam Aadmi Party – which recently got the status of a national party and is determined to expand its base.
The Congress and the AAP are allies in the anti-BJP front. However, as political rivals in several states the two parties share an uneasy relation.
Assembly elections in Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan and Telangana: Watch the complete schedule
For the Congress, victory in these states will give the party an edge and also greater bargaining power in the opposition space. The Congress has government in four states as of now – Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, while the AAP is in power in two states – Delhi and Punjab.
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have traditionally seen a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. In Chhattisgarh, however, some tribal-based regional parties have strong pockets of influence impacting the prospects of the two main contenders.
Arvind Kejriwal has already announced that AAP will contest in all the three states. Soon after the Election Commission announced the poll schedule, Kejriwal said, “We are prepared to contest the elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh with full strength.”
In fact, AAP leaders including Kejriwal have gone all out to target the Congress governments in the two poll-bound states. In Chhattisgarh, Kejriwal slammed the condition of government schools under the Congress rule and cited the success of his Delhi model. The AAP has also announced 10 “guarantees” which included Rs 3,000 monthly allowance for the unemployed, a monthly “samman rashi” assistance for women, free electricity, free school education, mohalla clinics.
In the 2018 assembly polls, the AAP had fielded 85 candidates in Chhattisgarh. However, all of them ended up losing their deposits.
In Rajasthan also, Kejriwal has promised several guarantees and sought votes to make a new Rajasthan – free of corruption. Kejriwal attacked Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot for not taking any action against BJP’s Vasundhara Raje over corruption charges.
“Their leader Sachin Pilot got tired of raising the issue, demanding action but Gehlot did nothing. If you want politics of friendship then vote for them (Congress-BJP) but if want politics of patriotism then vote for AAP,” he said.
AAP leaders have been campaigning aggressively with poll guarantees in Madhya Pradesh also as they try to create space for the party in the poll-bound state.
Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, in one of his rallies, urged the people of Madhya Pradesh not to vote for the BJP or the Congress, alleging that they have entered into a deal to loot the public for five years each.
The AAP is focusing on the Vindhya region of the state as it has won the Singrauli’s mayoral post in the last local bodies elections and cornered a sizable number of votes in the region. Before the announcement of the assembly poll dates, both Kejriwal and Mann have addressed meetings in the Vindhya region.
The Congress leaders have reacted sharply to AAP attacks in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. However, the top party leadership has evaded any direct comments on the issue. It is still not clear if the two parties will enter into an alliance for the state polls. When asked if AAP will contest assembly elections as part of the INDIA bloc, Kejriwal said “whatever happens will be apprised”.
Perhaps, the aggressive AAP foray in the three states where the Congress has huge stakes could be a pressure tactic to ensure that the grand old party agrees to recognise AAP as the dominant force in Delhi and Punjab.
However, if the alliance talks fail and AAP contests alone, it will be interesting to see which of the two main players – the BJP or the Congress – is impacted more.