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5 reasons why Prashant Kishor and Congress ‘deal’ fell through

Prashant Kishor wanted to work with Congress — a party that is facing an existential crisis in the absence of a strong leadership. It wasn't an easy task.

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After days of negotiations and deliberations, poll strategist Prashant Kishor on Tuesday declined the offer made by Congress citing that the party needs ‘transformational reforms’. Prashant Kishor, who has been politically flirting with the party for over a year now, had pitched its ‘revival plan’ in front of Gandhis early this month. While it was not cast in stone that Kishor’s ‘Midas touch’ would have continued, his track record was redoubtable. The news came as a shock to many who had expected the ‘poll magician’ to join the Congress. Many have been speculating about the potential ‘deal-breaker’ in this affair but there might be more than one.

Reportedly, Prashant Kishor, famous as ‘PK’, in his 600-slide-long presentations, stressed that the grand old party cannot be ‘left alone to die’. Sonia Gandhi, who is working odd hours to set the house in order, formed a committee that has submitted a report on his ‘induction’ but more on his ‘role’ in the party. Based on the report, Sonia Gandhi had formed an ‘Empowered Action Group’ to deal with the challenges that Kishor had raised and the poll strategist was offered ‘a place in the group’ with defined responsibilities.

Announcing the ‘deal breaker’, Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Following a presentation & discussions with Sh. Prashant Kishor, Congress President has constituted a Empowered Action Group 2024 & invited him to join the party as part of the group with defined responsibility. He declined. We appreciate his efforts & suggestion(s) given to (the) party.”

We tried to analyse the major reasons that might have led to the collapse of the negotiation between Congress and Prashant Kishor.


Also Read: Prashant Kishor is seen as an election magician. But he wins only when in winning team


A larger than life leader

The Indian model of ‘political consultancy’ in its initial years has replicated the West’s form of presidential elections. Drawing a parallel to American elections, PK established the ‘personality-driven campaign’ as a forte in most election battles he has been a part of in the last decade. Often credited for being an early innovator of poll management in India, he has helped translate votes into victories for political parties, be it Mamata Banerjee’s projection in Bengal with ‘Didir 10 Angikar’, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s ‘Navaratnalu’ in Andhra Pradesh, Nitish Kumar’s ‘7 Nischay’ in Bihar, Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘guarantees’ in Delhi or Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

However, PK, wanted to work with Congress — a party that is facing an existential crisis in the absence of a strong leadership. The extent of the problems can be gauged by the fact that the party has been facing elections without a full-time national president. Joining hands with Congress would have put a lot at stake for Prashant Kishor because arranging everything back in order would not be an easy task to solve.


Also Read: Why ‘winners’ pick Prashant Kishor


Massive cadre base

One thing that is common among all the former collaborations PK had had with the past is the massive cadre base of the parties. If the first leg of any campaign plank is the ‘strong face’ to generate a ‘strong message ‘, the second would be the ability to disseminate it to the grassroots. He, using the massive cadres of the parties including Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Trinamool Congress in Bengal, Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, and others, ran massive outreach campaigns to reach out to the voters. His skills and electioneering traits converted these cadre-based parties into parties with mass appeal, even if for a short time.

On the contrary, Congress faces organisational challenges because of a weak, technologically handicapped, and uncharged local cadre. The conditions are the worst in states like Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal. In the recent bypolls in Bihar, the Congress nominee got just over 1,000 votes, even trailing behind NOTA, and two ‘random independents’. In Uttar Pradesh, the party lost deposit in 387 seats out of 399 contested. While in West Bengal, a recent membership drive saw the party failing to even add 3 lakh new members across the state.


Also Read: Prashant Kishor has a ‘4M’ plan for Congress to take on BJP in 2024. But it needs a Nadda


Absolute power

PK has had a formidable influence and enjoys enormous trust and autonomy with the chief ministers he has worked for. His past associations have been mostly with regional parties, which usually have a strong leader equipped with absolute power, which he could access. During the campaigns, he not only played a part in setting up the narrative and agenda but also worked towards revamping the organisations at the state and district levels. Not just limited to consultations within the party structure, he and his mentored firm, the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), went a step ahead in Bengal and made changes in the administrative structure.

Over the years, his influence has grown with the parties he has worked for. But the tricky part about Congress is that instead of having a centre of power, the party has multiple, scattered spheres of influence, and consolidating them would be a task in itself. The 2017 Uttar Pradesh election was one that he would want to forget, as he openly said, many of his suggestions were rejected by Congress leaders.

IPAC’s shadow

One of the major reasons that led to the end of the negotiation between Congress and Prashant Kishor might have been that the party wanted him and not his company IPAC. Over the years, PK has tried to distance himself from IPAC but there remains a silent agreement about how and why parties that want to work with IPAC are majorly influenced by Prashant Kishor. Reportedly, IPAC’s new assignment with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi is also perhaps a factor that put both the stakeholders on different pages while stitching a ‘deal’.

It seems for those who were excited to see Prashant Kishor embarking on a new journey with Congress, might have to wait a bit longer. With this development, Congress is back to its drawing board to re-evaluate the challenges, taking into account the issues PK raised and discussed with the leadership.

Amrit Pandey is a political researcher and former student of election campaign and democracy from the University of London and Talha Rashid is a Delhi-based independent researcher. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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