With Congress leaders from across the country descending on the party headquarters here to register for the All India Congress Committee session on Friday, the buzz among many of the leaders centred on the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party.
While some were of the view that the party cannot be ignored anymore, others appeared less concerned as they said regional issues, money and muscle power were something the AAP would have to contend with in a big way if it were really to make an impact on the 400-odd seats it intends to fight.
“Arvind Kejriwal is from my district,’’ said Bhiwani District Congress Committee president Chhatter Singh Chauhan, adding that AAP is trying to woo the electorate in the constituency and is primarily focusing its energies on the non-Jat and backward votes in Haryana.
“AAP has planned a meeting in the constituency on January 18. It has some influence among the business community to which Mr. Kejriwal belongs. But in Haryana, Jats are the predominant caste and most of them would continue to support the Congress due to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. While BJP remains a factor due to Narendra Modi’s projection as prime ministerial candidate, the Indian National Lok Dal will only be able to make an impact if its leader Om Prakash Chautala, also a Jat, comes out of prison.”
Mr. Chauhan said the Congress would need to be proactive to counter the challenge from AAP. “We should not ignore them. Rather we should also attack their policies, hollow promises and lack of vision for growth: something the party did not do during the Delhi Assembly elections.”
That electoral politics in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh was not really a bed of roses was borne out by Shailesh Singh, the DCC president from Ghazipur, who described AAP as “zero bata sannata” (zero divided by silence) in the region. “We have had strongmen like D.P. Yadav, Mukhtar Ansari, Brijesh Singh and Kailash Yadav contesting from the constituency. It is all about muscle and money power in this Poorvanchal belt where 35 mafia have thrown their hat in the electoral ring in 19 constituencies. Would AAP candidates be able to stand up to them?”
AICC member Rani Agarwal from Thane district in Maharashtra said AAP would need to perform if it dreams of doing well. “For now, what people are seeing is rebellion within the party, lack of an agenda for ruling the nation and its inability to solve local issues. On the other hand, the Congress has all along contested on the development plank.”
Ms. Agarwal said while her party’s main rival in her area is its UPA ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, “the party workers are being primed to deal with new challenges, as and when they may arise”.
Another AICC member and former Andhra Pradesh Minister Chandrashekhar Sambhani said in his Khammam district, the Congress is the main party and its main rivals remain the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Telugu Desam Party. “For us AAP is non-existent.”