The emergence of Prashant Kishor as a key strategist for the Congress and his close proximity with Rahul Gandhi has upset a number of top party leaders, who feel that the signals emanating from this new partnership would overall show the organisation in a dim light. Their fear is that people would wonder why a 130-year-old party could not find anyone from its own ranks to play a prominent part in devising an electoral blueprint.
However, it is evident that Gandhi has chosen Kishor as a key aide in order to shield himself from his mother Sonia Gandhi’s coterie. It is quite well known in Congress circles that some of the powerful men advising Sonia Gandhi had at every stage tried to thwart Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to evolve as the new boss of the party. By “sabotaging” some of his initiatives, they ensured that he did not succeed. Further, they “leaked” stories regarding his “non serious” and “inconsistent approach”, making him a butt of many jokes and his being branded as “Pappu” in political parlance.
Rahul Gandhi has this deep realisation within that he would have to carve out his own team in order to make a mark in politics and his mother’s associates had outlived their utility on the one hand and on the other were proving to be a liability. Moreover, the new look Congress when he takes over as the president eventually should have an appeal for the younger people so that it is clearly seen to be different from the party Sonia Gandhi headed. Although it may not be the best political methodology to insulate himself against harm from within, Rahul Gandhi is banking on Kishor to bring new ideas to the table so that he can implement them.
Rahul Gandhi was introduced to Prashant Kishor in 2007 and at that point was least impressed by his approach.
However, senior Congress leaders are extremely sceptical about their vice president’s newfound ways and believe that he is pushing the party towards disaster and no strategist, however talented he may be, can wield a magic wand and come out with solutions unless the high command takes measures that are compatible with the thinking of the grassroots workers. It is pointed out that for an “outsider” to comprehend the manner in which the party works is incomprehensible and by his actions Gandhi was pushing the loyal and trusted workers away from the party fold.
Rahul Gandhi was introduced to Prashant Kishor in 2007 and at that point was least impressed by his approach. However, now he is going out of the way to project him as the new age saviour who would transform the organisation. At a strategy session last week, Kishor was given complete importance that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be playing a crucial role in the party affairs in both Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where elections are to be held next year. Sources said that Gandhi has given carte blanche powers to Prashant to objectively shortlist names for handling the UP polls, while simultaneously making it clear that top leaders from the state, such as Pramod Tewari, Salman Khurshid, Jitin Prasada, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, R.P.N. Singh and others would have to play second fiddle to him.
Shell shocked by the development, senior leaders are clueless on how to change the vice president’s mind, given that his decisions were always endorsed by his mother Sonia Gandhi, without any questions being asked. Prashant Kishor is understood to have virtually convinced Rahul Gandhi that the Congress would have to project a face in Uttar Pradesh on the same lines as it has decided to make Amarinder Singh as the obvious candidate for Chief Ministership in Punjab. “A faceless campaign cannot go too far,” is the indication for all to understand.
An unconfirmed report said that Kishor had suggested Priyanka Vadra’s name for UP Chief Minister’s job, which appears to be an improbability given that most Congressmen see her as the campaign spearhead in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The truth of the matter is that Priyanka Vadra would possibly prefer to contest from Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seat in the next round rather than getting involved in the murky nitty-gritty of state politics. Party activists from the state feel that the contest in UP could at most be symbolic, since Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party were set to be the main challengers to the might of both the Samajwadi Party and its supreme leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Rahul Gandhi has immense faith in Kishor’s abilities and has asked him to constantly give him his feedback. Many Congress watchers also believe that Kishor is the man behind Gandhi’s image makeover. All of a sudden, Rahul Gandhi has started looking like a confident politician willing to take his opponents on, on any turf, something in contrast to his image of a reluctant leader. His performance in the Lok Sabha earlier in the week where he took on the Prime Minister in a no-holds-barred confrontation, was the result of his closeness to Kishor who seems to be guiding him at every level. However, many top party leaders are unhappy with the way things are happening. “Prashant Kishor is not a politician, but a marketing man who can at best help in creating an image. He cannot be of any use in understanding the nuances of the politics of every state. He is being credited with the successful campaigns of Narendra Modi in 2014 and of Nitish Kumar in 2015, but the two leaders themselves played the vital role of giving direction and aggression to their strategy. In Congress, the top leadership does not know which direction the party should move towards so what can he do?”, a senior leader asked.
Those critical of involving Kishor in Congress affairs are of the view that his induction was similar to that of many spokespersons who represented the party in TV debates as either friends of Congress or similar outfits. People got the impression that India’s largest party did not have anyone who could defend its stand and thus had to find outsiders. The party now has more than 60 designated spokespersons, while it has only 45 MPs (earlier 44) in the Lok Sabha.
Rahul Gandhi is undeterred or unperturbed or perhaps even unaware of the opposing voices in his own party. He is working towards a strategy by which he wants to weaken the BJP as much as he can before the 2019 face-off. To achieve this objective, he is even willing to help regional parties in some areas. On his own part, he is reaching out to the youth and students in various places and his support for Kanhaiya Kumar in Jawaharlal Nehru University was in pursuit of his overall target. He does not trust most of his mother’s advisers and is, in fact, wary of them. He is convinced that they have done more harm to him than the adversaries outside the Congress fold. Thus he is determined to take help from wherever it is available. Even if it requires putting all eggs in Prashant Kishor’s basket.