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Cong wears blinkers on AAP threat

New Delhi, Jan. 14: The crushing blow in Delhi hasn’t alerted the Congress to the potential threat from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Lok Sabha election, with the majority of leaders dismissing it as a fleeting phase.

Informal conversations with a wide range of leaders suggest the Congress is relying on the AAP to fail to deliver in Delhi, and hasn’t begun to evolve a political strategy to counter its fast-growing appeal.

The leaders appear to have presumed that the party, which is attracting thousands of people in different states, would disappear once the “false promises” made to the voters of Delhi begin to dent the credibility of its leadership.

A general secretary described the AAP as a “fleeting urban experience”.

A senior minister in the Manmohan Singh government appeared to agree. “People were angry in Delhi because of abnormal prices and they gave vent to their anger. The media too played a role by creating a monster of corruption and telling the world that free loot was on in India. The Anna Hazare movement happened and Kejriwal exploited that goodwill by floating AAP at the right time. Such phases come and go in national life,” the minister said.

Scepticism about the AAP’s national prospects runs deep in the leadership, with few believing the party is here to stay or that it could hurt the Congress in the long run.

One senior AICC functionary said: “Delhi is not India. In places where caste and identities play a crucial role, where politics is much more complex than an urban cluster of ambitious people who got swayed by media, AAP will automatically unravel.”

But these were the same leaders who had predicted that the AAP would not get any seats in Delhi.

Some Congress leaders are happy that Kejriwal has whittled down Narendra Modi’s presence in the media, particularly on television, and hope the AAP would dent BJP’s prospects in urban centres across the country. “Let the AAP grow, it will hurt the BJP. After the Lok Sabha election, both will fall apart,” one leader said.

However, leaders who are connected with the masses have a different view — they see the AAP threat and a continuing anti-Congress wave in most states of the country.

Many ticket aspirants and even sitting MPs are wondering if the AAP would be a better option in the next Lok Sabha election. Those who work on the ground in different states also recognise the AAP’s potential, pointing out how hordes of ordinary people queued up in Mumbai, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Lucknow and Patna to become party members.

Many Congress leaders admit membership drives of political parties were often fraudulent and that they had never seen such curiosity among ordinary people and youth as that for the AAP.

One Congress leader told The Telegraph: “I heard of a very successful enrolment drive by the Youth Congress in my city. I wanted to check the veracity of the claim and one local guy told me they procured names and phone numbers from a mobile service provider to show enlisted members. Even photos were arranged, mostly of people who had nothing to do with us. If the Youth Congress has millions of members, they should be seen on the streets.

“In Delhi, candidates were asked if the Youth Congress worked for them. The truth is even block and district presidents don’t work for the candidate without money whereas AAP volunteers went to individual voters twice or thrice.”

At the Congress headquarters, it is easy to find party workers from different parts of the country who come to Delhi only to lobby with the leadership to ensure they remain AICC members.

One such Congress worker explained: “I never got a ticket to contest an election but I am an AICC member for 25 years. My name has now been struck off. We have a government at the Centre for 10 years but we got nothing, no corporation, no board membership. I tell poor people in my village how Sonia and Rahul care for them. Without this little card of AICC, I will lose the determination to carry on.”

The AICC has had around 1,200 members for decades. Many leaders believe that if the party has to accommodate more people, it can be expanded by a few hundred.

But the commonest complaint is that the leadership and party governments have scant regard for workers. A loyal but angry worker from Uttar Pradesh said: “Even today if workers came out and fought sincerely, UPA III would be back. But ministers have shown such arrogance that the workers would rather sit at home and teach them a lesson.”