New Delhi: Much of what’s in the public domain on election strategist Prashant Kishor’s interactions with the Congress leadership is based on part-knowledge of his nine-hour-long presentation to Sonia Gandhi — who redacted and controlled other party functionaries’ access to the blueprint on offer for the Congress’s revival.
Kishor has since excused himself from being part of an empowered action group (EAG) Gandhi proposed at the end of the talks for the 2024 general elections. But the manner in which he phrased the announcement, via a tweet, left scope for revisiting the issue, maybe not immediately, but after an interregnum:
Most importantly, people in the know of things insist the talks not making a headway does not mean a breakdown of communication between the principal interlocutors.
From bipartisan accounts of Kishor’s exhaustive talks with the Congress’s apex leadership and a committee detailed to study his proposals, it seems the process did not get stalled over the engagement of India Political Action Committee (I-PAC), a company he founded, with other political parties. Neither was his position in the pecking order within the Congress a make or break issue.
The question of what post could be on offer for Kishor and be acceptable to him did come up for negotiations. But he wasn’t as much fixated on that as on the party’s commitment to carry out the reforms he prescribed and was willing to fine-tune in synch with the feedback received from senior leaders in the loop.
In one of his many interactions with the leadership, Kishor remarked to the effect that a ranking office in the Congress hierarchy wasn’t his priority. He was quoted as saying that he was intelligent enough to know that no post would be beyond his reach if his roadmap helped the party to revive and attain its goals.
Kishor also presented his past association with I-PAC as an advantage in making poll alliances when the time is ripe. It wasn’t in any case a new issue. The Congress high command knew from where he came and wasn’t unduly discomfited, unlike other Congressmen, by the “conflict of interest” chorus over the company’s ongoing or past projects with K Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Jaganmohan Reddy’s Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), MK Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kazagham or Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Presented as sticky in the public discourse, the TRS issue, in fact, was studied with reference to the “Kerala template” that guided the Congress’s ties with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at the Centre and in the state. Perennial rivals in Kerala’s bipolar polity, they’ve mostly worked together at the federal level.
Perception-wise, there indeed were sharp differences within the Congress on I-PAC’s activities. A section of the party leaders Gandhi co-opted for advice underscored its downsides to voice circumspection. The flip side discussed with some emphasis in the internal talks was that Kishor’s proximity to I-PAC could at the least help keep parties the company serviced, on the secular side of the political divide against the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2024 big-ticket polls.
In his earlier failed talks with the Congress before the recent elections to five state assemblies, Kishor had predicted a 5-0 washout of the party. The negotiations revived when the reality he forecast hit the party in the face, coaxing it towards the leap of faith it couldn’t take in the first instance.
The fresh interaction that didn’t reach fruition even this time was way more exhaustive and serious. So much so that the tricky leadership issue with focus on the role of the Gandhis was discussed in detail mostly with the Congress president. Other leaders only knew about the options on the table for a debate.
In this backdrop, it’s significant that Kishor has restricted himself to a single, cautiously-worded tweet while turning down a seat on the high-table EAG. He comes across in the process as only having pushed the pause button, awaiting stronger signs of the political will he advocates to execute “transformational reforms” in the moribund party.
The time to pick up the threads might be after the Congress’s organisational polls slated for later this year. The best way to sum it up perhaps would be through that famous Bollywood line: Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost..”
HT’s veteran political editor, Vinod Sharma, brings together his four-decade-long experience of closely tracking Indian politics, his intimate knowledge of the actors who dominate the political theatre, and his keen eye which can juxtapose the past and the present in his weekly column, Distantly Close
The views expressed are personal