Analysis: Congress gains from AAP power

Party seeks to mend its graft-tainted image by extending support to new party in Delhi, after being routed in polls.

Both Sonia Gandhi (right) and Rahul said lessons would be learnt from this month's election results [EPA]

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), after its spectacular debut, may finally find itself in power in Delhi but the real beneficiary of its decision is the Congress.

Having been routed in Delhi where it ruled the roost for 15 years, the Congress ought to have been beaten and bruised. Instead, by extending support to AAP to form the government, its cleverly given itself an opportunity to somewhat redeem itself. 

Under normal circumstances, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would have walked away with power and a huge majority in Delhi. But the AAP skewed the pitch and the BJP and its allies found themselves three seats short of a majority.  

Despite the fact that the AAP had won on an anti-corruption platform, targeting the Congress mainly, the party magnanimously offered support of its eight winners. This has enabled the AAP to cross the half-way mark of 35 in a 70-member assembly.

The AAP, after much agonising, debate and eventually a referendum of sorts, has taken the plunge. Some 74 percent of its voters have asked it to form government, and show that it can carry out its promises.

While this is surely an opportunity for the AAP chief  Arvind Kejriwal and his band of idealistic followers, what may have been lost in the post-electoral din is that it is the Congress which has gained from this arrangement.

Hopelessly lost

For, if there had been re-elections,  given the intense and viral anti-Congress sentiments, there was no way the party would have gained lost ground. 

From the vote count,  it was clear that the BJP had lost just two percentage points compared to the previous polls.  The Congress, on the contrary, had lost close to 11 percentage points. 

What this meant was that hordes of Congress voters had deserted the party in favour of the AAP.  The two percent decrease in BJP votes too went to the AAP. 

But the real secret behind the AAP victory was the arrival at polling booths of a large number of middle-class voters who had never exercise their franchise before. Polling time was extended for several hours to accommodate the new voters.

Given its steep loss, another election would not have changed the fate of the Congress. But, the BJP stood a good chance of returning to power as it had lost narrowly.

By supporting the AAP, the Congress has managed to stymie any such possibility, of the BJP being voted to power in Delhi.

Also, by backing the debutant party with its anti-corruption stance, the Congress is attempting to neutralise its tainted image. One of the biggest criticisms of the Congress-led central government in its second term in office is its kow-towing to corruption.

No coincidence

It was no coincidence that the party went out of its way to woo anti-corruption icon Anna Hazare by rushing to get the Lokpal (independent ombudsman) bill passed in parliament as the elderly activist was on an indefinite hunger strike.

The party, under its possible prime ministerial aspirant Rahul Gandhi, by backing AAP and pushing forward the Lokpal bill wants to make it appear it is serious in its fight against corruption.

By appearing to ingratiate itself with anti-corruption activists, the Congress hopes to somehow neutralise the image of a party that is cosy with graft, bribes and dirty deals.  With national elections to parliament only a few months away, the party leadership knows it is running out of time to salvage the situation.

The situation in Delhi, is therefore, a timely opportunity to down a few fruits using a single stone. So, while the AAP is busy exulting in taking over power for the first time, the Congress has reasons to feel happier and shrewdly so. 

Source: Al Jazeera