Why Prashant Kishor met Priyanka, Rahul Gandhi
Election strategist Prashant Kishor met with the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday for nearly an hour, setting off wild speculation about everything from 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.
The Congress, whose general secretary KC Venugopal was also present during the meeting, declined to comment. In response to a query on whether he was helping put together an opposition alliance, Kishor would only say: “all speculation”. Still, each of the theories -- some put forth by Congress leaders themselves -- was plausible.
Prashant Kishor, after all, is Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s adviser (if only informal), and Tuesday’s meetings came five days after he met with the CM. The Congress’s central leadership has been trying to resolve a crisis in the Punjab unit, largely driven by party leader Navjot Singh Sidhu’s ambitions for himself and antipathy towards the chief minister. A dissident group has coalesced around Sidhu, driven by what is seen as the chief minister’s non-delivery of poll promises (in 2017), friendliness towards the Badals of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and overreliance on bureaucrats at the cost of exclusion of lawmakers. A decision on a resolution is believed to be imminent (Singh met with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last week), as is a rejig of the party’s Punjab unit.
Yet, people familiar with the matter said Tuesday’s meeting was not about that.
Some top functionaries of the Congress said on condition of anonymity that the meeting was focused on strategies for the 2024 national polls and how to forge unity between opposition parties. HT learns that in the past few months, Kishor has met senior leaders across parties and wants to, according to one of the people cited above, “play a larger role” in getting a grouping going. Prashant Kishor’s stature as a poll strategist skyrocketed after the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress swept the West Bengal election this May; he also consulted with Tamil Nadu’s MK Stalin, whose DMK won the state elections in May; and he has met with NCP’s Sharad Pawar more than once in recent weeks. The person cited above added that Kishor is of the view that the Congress has to be part of such a grouping -- but there’s no telling whether a united front is even on his mind. After all, speaking to HT last month after meeting Pawar, he said: ”I don’t believe that any third or fourth front can defeat Narendra Modi so I would not be part of any such coalition.”
A second Congress leader said Prashant Kishor discussed the Presidential election of 2022, pointing out that the BJP may well end up short of the number of lawmakers needed to elect the country’s first citizen, and that a united opposition could embarrass the government by having its candidate elected.
Tuesday’s meeting is the first major one between Rahul Gandhi and Prashant Kishor after the debacle in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, when a Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance advised by Kishor flopped. The strategist has maintained that it’s the one blot in his copybook. He has also maintained that the Bengal and Tamil Nadu campaigns were his last as he is going to step back and leave the poll strategy business to others in his company. Still, it is a fact that he has been up and about since the results were announced, meeting most parties and leaders of consequence. The second leader referred to Kishor as a “sutradhar” , literally, thread-holder, meaning a narrator who holds the plot together.
Only, the plot, if there is one at all, isn’t clear yet.