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TDP's Chandrababu fails to seal AAP-Cong alliance in Delhi

Wednesday, March 13, 2019
By Arati Jerath

It seems the main stumbling block to an AAP-Congress election pact in Delhi is Rahul Gandhi himself. Although the party has given the impression that the Congress president left it to his Delhi leadership to take a decision, it is evident from the manner in which Sheila Dikshit is blocking an alliance that she is simply her master’s voice.

Interestingly, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, who is one of the main drivers of a united opposition fight against Modi and the BJP, had told Rahul Gandhi several weeks ago that only he could bring his party around to the idea of an alliance. He should over rule local objections in the larger national interest, Babu is believed to have said.

According to sources familiar with the development, the TDP chief recalled that he had started consulting his party leaders six months before the Telengana assembly polls last year to get them to agree to a Congress-TDP tie-up. He said it was a tough job because the TDP and Congress have been bitter rivals. Six months of communication and persuasion paid off. When the election dates were announced, his party did not revolt, Babu told Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress president merely smiled enigmatically and did not commit himself either way. But the impression among the non-Congress opposition is that Rahul Gandhi is not at all keen on a poll pact with AAP in Delhi. Every time the issue has come up at opposition meetings or in informal one-to-one conversations, Rahul Gandhi has always been noncommittal.

Ajay, Kapil take U turn
While Rahul Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit and several Delhi Congress leaders are opposing an electoral alliance with AAP, guess who are speaking in favour of it? Ajay Maken and Kapil Sibal, apparently. They’ve done a U-turn on their earlier objections.

Ajay Maken’s change of heart is the big surprise. He was the main stumbling block to an alliance as long as he was Delhi chief. The reason he is now in favour of a pact is that he hopes to contest and win the New Delhi Lok Sabha seat with AAP support. It seems that Kejriwal’s party is not keen to contest this prestigious seat although it has announced a candidate. AAP’s internal surveys indicate that the party is on weak ground in this largely middle class constituency with a sizeable population of government employees. Consequently, it has indicated informally that it is willing to concede this seat to the Congress in case of an alliance.

Similarly, Kapil Sibal is hoping for a poll pact with AAP for much the same reason. He has contested the Chandni Chowk seat three times and won twice. It seems AAP is ready to give up this seat for the Congress as well. Again, ground reports suggest that Chandni Chowk is not a sure win for AAP. The Congress would do better, especially if the two parties have an alliance.

Apparently, Sibal had a heated exchange with Sheila Dikshit recently as he pressed for a Congress-AAP understanding.

Kartarpur corridor continues
The post-Pulwama warmongering by the media has deflected attention from solid de-escalation moves by India and Pakistan under the watchful eye of a worried international community.

The big development is the upcoming meeting between Indian and Pakistani officials to discuss modalities for completing the construction of the Kartarpur corridor connecting the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in Punjab on the Indian side to the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan.

While screaming television channels and election rhetoric give the impression that tensions are still high between India and Pakistan, quiet diplomatic moves suggest exactly the opposite.

The Kartarpur meeting is slated to be held on March 14. This one will happen at the Wagah border on the Indian side. After that, officials will meet again, this time in Pakistan.

The corridor is supposed to be completed by November this year, before Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. It will cut down travel time hugely for Sikh pilgrims wanting to visit the sacred gurudwara at Kartarpur. The gurudwara was found by Guru Nanak who established the first Sikh commune there.

Presently, pilgrims have to take a bus to Lahore and then travel to the shrine. It’s a 125 km journey. The proposed corridor is just 4.5 km long and will make the trip quicker and easier.

India and Pakistan are both under pressure from the international community to reduce hostilities following the Pulwama terror attack and the retaliatory strike on a JeM training camp in Balakot.

Interestingly, most of the channels in India have ignored the Kartarpur meeting. They continue to beat war drums, giving the impression that there are no diplomatic moves underway to ease tensions.

Gathbandhan spoiler?
The Congress party’s announcement of 11 candidates for UP seems to be the final nail in the coffin of a mahagathbandhan. But there are optimists in the opposition who feel that the final word has not been said yet on the possibility of including the Congress in the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.

Apparently, back channel talks are still on and the SP is ready to concede seats for the Congress from its quota of 37. According to a source familiar with the talks, Akhilesh Yadav has indicated that he may yield 9 seats to the Congress. Watch this space for further news.

Namo events delayed Election dates
The Election Commission is believed to have booked Vigyan Bhavan for three days, March 10-12, as it waited for clarity on the right time to announce election dates. Vigyan Bhavan has become the venue  since 2014 for this much awaited press conference of the EC.

Narendra Modi’s inauguration spree seems to have delayed the announcement. No-one was quite sure when the spree would end. Finally, the PMO indicated that his CISF Raising Day function on March 10 morning would be his last official engagement.

The EC’s press conference was hurriedly called for the same evening.

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