Congress revival plans focus of Kishor’s meet with Gandhis
Election strategist Prashant Kishor’s meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday was to discuss his revival plan for the Congress, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
They added that the meeting was a continuation of the previous meetings Kishor has had with the Gandhis, starting with one with president Sonia Gandhi last May, and subsequently with some other top leaders of the Congress, on the same theme, and that it may even involve the election strategist joining the party. The Congress has officially refused to comment on the matter. However, at least two senior leaders who have been part of discussions told HT that it is actively being considered.
Kishor said the possibility of him joining the party was “all speculation”.
According to the Congress leaders cited above, Rahul Gandhi has told Kishor that if he was interested in helping Congress win elections, he should join the party and do so from within the organisation. They added that Kishor’s plan involves a complete overhaul of the 135-year-old party’s organisation including new party posts and a parliamentary board.
“Kishor has discussed multiple scenarios and since he has left the space of political consultancy, according to him, he may want to assume a more proactive role in politics,” a third person familiar with the matter said.
On Tuesday, Kishor met with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for nearly an hour, setting off wild speculation about everything from a reconciliation in Punjab between warring factions of the party, through a common opposition candidate for the 2022 Presidential election, to a united front in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls but what was actually discussed, the people cited in the first instance said, was his possible role in shaping the national party. HT reported on Wednesday that over the past few months, Kishor has met senior leaders across parties and wants to, according to a fourth person familiar with the matter, “play a larger role” in getting a grouping going.
One of the proposals made by Kishor’s team 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.
Kishor’s political consultancy group Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) is also likely to play an active role in the party if Kishor joins it, the people said. He also has access to a vast pool of professionals who have worked with across several political campaigns since 2014. After helping the TMC retain Bengal and the DMK win Tamil Nadu, Kishor announced that he was stepping down from day to day operations I-PAC.
“On one hand it’s good that they may bring in someone from outside because within the Congress party the politics is too personalised...a trend that began during the Indira Gandhi regime and they are paying for it. I assume that they (Gandhis) will back him...It’s a positive step in one way to get someone from outside who is used to managerial roles... But at the same time, I also think it’s not entirely right to bring about corporate-like managerial style within the party...,” said political scientist Neera Chandhoke.
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 opposition, 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).
The people cited in the first instance also said that Kishor was particularly critical of the Congress’ inability to leverage the legacy of its past leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, the institutions they built, and the economic growth of the country under Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh governments.
Much of this, they added, first came up during Kishor’s detailed presentation to Sonia Gandhi on structural changes in the party. They claimed the meeting was kept secret from even the top leadership of the party and that since then, Kishor has been in touch with the three Gandhis and also met key leaders including Kamal Nath, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Sidarammaiah.
Kishor and the Congress (especially Rahul Gandhi) have had a strained relationship following the debacle in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017, when a combination of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party flopped, though HT learns that he has remained in constant touch with the top leadership of the party.