By approving the decision to appoint Prashant Kishor, well known political strategist, as the key person to plan the Congress campaign in poll bound Punjab, the party high command appears to have inadvertently admitted that its current leadership was inadequate to meet the twin challenge from both the Akali Dal-BJP ruling coalition and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Kishor has many accomplishments in his impressive bio-data, but his knowledge of the Congress and how it functions has never been his strong point. He is an alien so far as party workers go and it is unlikely that his presence would galvanise them in any manner when the big electoral battle takes place in February next year.
It would have been far better if the overall strategy, the selection of candidates and the logistics would have been left to Captain Amarinder Singh, the PCC chief, and Ambika Soni, the campaign committee in-charge, instead of outsourcing it to someone who has yet to familiarise himself not only with the politics of the state, but also on the fashion in which the grand old party functions. Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni may have played a role in getting Prashant Kishor on board, but even if this is a fact then they must be having very solid reasons to have done so.
Captain Amarinder Singh knows the political turf like the back of his hand and is considered as the most able person to provide an alternate government in Punjab, even though the AAP leadership could thwart his attempts to make a comeback in 2017. A section of the high command had held him responsible for failing to get the party to power in 2007 and 2012, when the truth is that undue interference and wrong distribution of tickets had led to the debacle.
What is likely to become clear in the next few months is the extent of role Kishor will play in determining what the Congress should be doing. The grand old party’s dynamics are very difficult to comprehend for anyone who has not been a part of its structure or has not seen it from close quarters. The late Indira Gandhi used to always say that Congressmen were unique people who had their own mechanisms of dealing with their adversaries as well as their problems. It is another matter that over the past decade in particular, the top leadership other than Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi comprises many “outsiders”, who have been inducted into the fold. Amongst various reasons that led to the fall of the UPA government in 2014 was the “outsider” factor, as it did not go down well with the grassroots workers and thereby they declined to work towards the success of the official nominees.
Many faces in the Congress are those of these “outsiders”, who, at one time, functioned on behalf of other parties. Madhusudan Mistry, Mohan Prakash, Sanjay Nirupam and Renuka Chowdhury are just a handful of such characters. The majority of party nominees, who won the recent Bihar Assembly polls, were not even members of the Congress when they were granted tickets. A top Congress leader reportedly told a confidant that only those people continue to remain in the party who have not been able to find berths elsewhere.
It is this mindset that has brought about the overall deterioration in the political fortunes of the party that has been in an over obsessed drive in pursuing a largely Dalit-Minority agenda, knowing full well that neither the Dalits nor the minorities were backing it at this juncture. In addition, members of the Sonia Gandhi coterie have also damaged the organisation. It is common knowledge that at a crucial stage, Himanta Biswa Sarma, a dissident, was tutored by three influential party leaders to revolt against Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
The decision to introduce Prashant Kishor in the Punjab battlefield also appears to be an arbitrary action. Many of Kishor’s admirers give him full credit for playing an important role in the victories of Narendra Modi in the Parliamentary elections and Nitish Kumar in the Bihar Assembly polls. This statement could be partly true since the momentum to the two campaigns was provided by the spearheads and had little to do with anyone else. Kishor definitely possesses organisational skills, but cannot be expected to wield a magic wand to turn around the result.
The Punjab Congress has been faction ridden for quite some time and the leadership made the apt move in reinstating Captain Amarinder Singh to the helm of affairs. In order to beat the Akali-BJP combination and the AAP challenge, the Congress has to go into the arena as a cohesive unit. This cohesion can be brought about only by its leadership and not by an outsourced strategist whose prescriptions can work only if the diagnosis and subsequent treatment is correct. The outcome of the Parliamentary polls of 2014 and the Bihar elections of 2015 was impacted by a wave in favour of the victors. There is no favourable wind in Punjab as yet which can set the Congress ship sailing. In Punjab, it is the collective enthusiasm and unity in the cadres that alone can swing the game towards the Congress. Strategists have very little stakes in the election results as the cross has to be naturally carried by the leadership. Between us.