Ordinance row: Delhi, Punjab Congress leaders urge Kharge, Rahul not to back AAP
Congress leaders from Delhi and Punjab separately met the party leadership in the national capital on Monday (May 29) and told them not to support Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the Delhi services ordinance issue.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had convened a meeting of leaders from Delhi and Punjab in the wake of Kejriwal urging the Congress to join the AAP and sundry other Opposition parties to oppose the controversial ordinance, particularly when it is brought before Parliament as a Bill for discussion and passing.
Leaders from the Congress’s Delhi and Punjab units had, however, cautioned the leadership against extending “any sympathy or support” to the AAP. In Monday’s meeting, which was also attended by former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, the party’s leaders from Punjab and Delhi reiterated their stand against the AAP.
Most of the leaders also urged the leadership not to have any truck with Arvind Kejriwal, calling him a “B-team” of the BJP, claiming he harmed the Congress’s interests not only in Delhi and Punjab but in other states as well. The state party leaders told the media that they have left it to the high command to take a final decision.
No final commitment
Sources privy to the discussions told The Federal that though Kharge and Rahul patiently heard their colleagues from Delhi and Punjab, neither gave any final commitment about the stand the party will take on the ordinance once it is brought before Parliament.
“Our leaders from Delhi and Punjab shared their concerns with the Congress president. These are genuine concerns because of the kind of politics the AAP has practised and on account of the statements that Kejriwal has repeatedly made against our leadership,” an aide of the Congress president told The Federal.
“That said, the high command also has to look at the larger picture of what this ordinance means in the context of our constitutionally mandated federal structure and it has to factor in the stand that many other Opposition parties have already taken on the ordinance. The leadership will carefully analyse all these and then take a considered position,” the aide added.
Kharge held this meeting after Kejriwal requested a meeting with Rahul and him to seek their support against the ordinance, which seeks to overturn a Supreme Court verdict that recently gave the Delhi government control over transfer and posting of bureaucrats (services) assigned to departments under its explicit jurisdiction.
The ordinance reverses the verdict of the apex court’s Constitution Bench by vesting powers in a newly created National Capital Civil Service Authority that would, henceforth, recommend bureaucratic transfers and postings while the Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delhi will have the power to act in his “sole discretion” and have the final say in the matter.
Kejriwal’s AAP, with its 10 Rajya Sabha MPs, clearly lacks the legislative strength to stall the Bill from getting Parliament’s nod. He has, thus, been courting Opposition parties with varying degrees of success in the hope that their support to his cause will prevent the Bill from being passed in the Rajya Sabha where neither the Treasury Benches nor the Opposition have a clear majority.
Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, the Shiv Sena faction led by Uddhav Thackeray, and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress have agreed to back him. But, the Congress has, so far, kept Kejriwal guessing on the position it would take.
“Our organisation general secretary (KC Venugopal) already said we will take a stand after the Congress president discusses the issue with our Delhi and Punjab units, as well as with like-minded Opposition parties. Today, the discussion with our state units of Punjab and Delhi has concluded and the CP will now talk to leaders of like-minded Opposition parties, as well as take the opinion of our senior leaders and legal experts. When we take a final call, it will be made public,” a senior Congress functionary from Delhi said.
Given that Kejriwal has craftily linked resistance to the ordinance with the broader and more crucial political issue of Opposition unity against the BJP, Kharge has a tightrope walk ahead of him as he finalises his party’s stand. Several Opposition leaders, particularly Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, have echoed Kejriwal’s view that uniting against the ordinance would be a precursor to an electoral federal front of a united Opposition against the BJP for next year’s general elections.
For Kharge, who is currently in talks with existing Congress allies as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar works on other regional outfits that are uncomfortable with a Congress-led Opposition alliance, this presents a clear complication.
“We can’t be seen as opposed to something on which most other Opposition parties have already come together, but at the same time, we have to be wary of Kejriwal’s politics, as he isn’t the most reliable of allies and has often practiced politics similar to that of the BJP in the past,” a Congress leader said.
And then, of course, there’s the question of how Kharge would justify helping the AAP’s cause — if indeed, the party decides to do so on the ordinance issue — to his party leaders from Delhi and Punjab, both states where the AAP has electorally decimated the Congress.
AAP’s past “mistakes”
On Saturday, for instance, Delhi Congress chief Anil Chaudhary said his party must not support Kejriwal because the AAP leader had made the “mistake” of praising the BJP earlier. Congress leader Alka Lamba, too, said AAP should first apologise to Congress, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and family, former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, and late former CM Sheila Dixit’s family.
Listing the reasons why Congress should not back AAP, Ajay Maken, who has held Cabinet posts in both Union and Delhi governments, has repeatedly been raking up Kejriwal’s direct attacks of the past that were aimed at the Congress leadership.
He recalled how AAP, along with the BJP, passed a resolution in the Delhi assembly in 2018, requesting the Union government to withdraw Bharat Ratna from the late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
He also accused Kejriwal of backing the BJP both inside and outside Parliament, when Jammu & Kashmir’s special status was removed in 2019. And, he also alleged that AAP supported BJP in Gujarat, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka elections, where Congress was the main opposition or the ruling party.
Congress leaders tight-lipped
After the meeting with Kharge, Punjab Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring told reporters they have given their views before the party high command and left the final decision to it.
“All the leaders have said the party high command will decide and we have left it to party chief Mallikarjun Kharge to take the final decision,” Raja Warring told reporters after the meeting.
Former party chief Navjot Sidhu said what transpired during the meeting was a secret and only the Congress chief or Rahul Gandhi would divulge the details.
He, however, said India’s Constitution is a sacred granth and he took inspiration from it. “But I can say emphatically that the values of the Constitution are at its lowest ebb,” he said, citing instances where the Centre “trampled upon” the Constitution.
(With inputs from agencies)