Buzz over Prashant Kishor’s Congress entry grows

Updated on Jul 29, 2021 02:00 AM IST

Whispers to the effect have grown louder in Congress circles although neither the party nor Kishor have said anything on the record.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishore. (File photo)(HT_PRINT)
Poll strategist Prashant Kishore. (File photo)(HT_PRINT)
By, New Delhi

Is the Congress keen to induct election strategist Prashant Kishor into its ranks?

And is Kishor, who has spoken of stepping back from his organisation, Indian Political Action Committee, keen to throw in his lot with India’s grand old party?

Whispers to the effect have grown louder in Congress circles although neither the party nor Kishor have said anything on the record.

Three people familiar with the details of what is happening in the Congress claimed the issue was discussed at a meeting on July 22, chaired by Rahul Gandhi, and attended by key leaders of the Congress Working Committee including AK Antony, Mallikarjun Kharge, KC Venugopal, Kamal Nath and Ambika Soni. All three spoke on condition of anonymity.

HT learns that a senior leadership role was being considered for Kishor either within the existing party structure or with a possibility of a new role. HT reported on July 15 that Kishor’s ambitious revival plan for the party, which he has presented to the Gandhis, involves the creation of a parliamentary board, new posts, and an overhaul of how the Congress party operates in every district.

One of the people added that the July 22 meeting was to gauge how senior Congress leaders felt about Kishor’s suggestions, which were first made to party president Sonia Gandhi just before the onset of the pandemic last year; the second leader said Sonia Gandhi wanted the consultation before the final decision was taken within the next few days.

“There is a willingness to adopt the strategies suggested by Kishor and during consultations, a consensus seems to have evolved,’’ added the second person. “We are optimistic about this because Kishor has said that it is not possible to beat the BJP without the Congress. Secondly, he was the one who approached us.’’

His reference is to Kishor’s comments made last month in the context of a third front to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party -- buzz on this has increased since the Trinamool Congress’s victory in West Bengal (Kishor was an advisor to the party) and the strategist’s multiple meetings with the nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar -- Kishor said he didn’t believe that any third or fourth front could defeat Narendra Modi indicating that the Congress was necessary.

There was no official comment emerging from the Congress on the meeting. HT contacted Antony who refused to speak on last Thursday’s meeting while the other leaders were not available. Venugopal said: “It was an informal meeting where we have started discussions about assembly polls that are scheduled for 2022.’’

Kishor said he had “no idea about the Congress meeting”.

On July 15, HT reported on Kishor’s meeting with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi and his possible role in shaping the national party.. One of the proposals made by Kishor is that Rahul Gandhi should head the new Congress parliamentary board. The creation of such a board, which will consider the party’s stand on key issues, was also one of the key demands of the so-called Group of 23, named after the number of senior leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi last year demanding change in how the party worked. In addition to suggestions on changes in the party, Kishor’s plans are also believed to include details on building a possible united front against the BJP, starting with accepting a common opposition candidate in the 2022 Presidential elections (NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s name was mentioned in this context and it is a fact that Kishor has met him thrice in the past month).

It still isn’t clear whether the party and the strategist will take the plunge.

There are concerns on both fronts.

For the Congress, this stems from wariness over Kishor’s style of functioning -- he is believed to value autonomy. For Kishor, it’s the fear of a repeat of 2017 where he worked as a consultant with the alliance between Samajwadi Party and the Congress which ended in disaster.

“Prashant Kishor joining the Congress would lead to an important strategist being in the party. Let’s remember that Kishor earlier joined the JDU and it was a bumpy journey. What is critical is how he can reshape the Congress and how the Congress leaders and workers will accept him,’’ said political scientist Sandeep Shastri.

In September 2018, Kishor joined the Janata Dal United , with which he worked in the 2015 Bihar polls, as vice-president before exiting in February, 2020.

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    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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