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‘Gandhi problem’: Why Prashant Kishor’s talks with Congress to revive the party crashed

Kishor wanted Priyanka Gandhi as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi as Parliamentary party leader & Sonia Gandhi as UPA chairperson, say members of committee that studied his recommendations.

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New Delhi: It was the role of the Gandhis in the Congress that became a sticking point in the party’s now-failed negotiations with poll strategist Prashant Kishor, ThePrint has reliably learnt.

Kishor wanted Priyanka Gandhi as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi as Parliamentary party leader and Sonia Gandhi as United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson, two members of the committee that went into Kishor’s blueprint for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections told ThePrint.

“We were ready to give him organisation and election management but how could we outsource the party leadership? He can’t decide who will lead the party,” one of the committee members said. 

The poll strategist wanted to take charge of the organisation and the management of elections, which was acceptable to the Gandhis.  

On 16 April, Kishor had given a four-hour-long presentation to Sonia Gandhi and a group of senior Congress leaders on how to revive the party and prepare for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Sonia Gandhi later formed an eight-member committee to look into his recommendations. The committee submitted its report to her on 21 April. Following discussions with committee members Monday, Gandhi decided to constitute an eight member ‘Empowered Action Group (EAG) 2024’ to address political challenges in the run up to the next Lok Sabha election.

On Tuesday afternoon, the party’s communication department chief, Randeep Surjewala, disclosed the breakdown of talks with the poll strategist in a tweet. 

The Congress president had “invited” Kishor to join the party as part of the EAG “with defined responsibility” but he declined, said Sujewala. 

 

Explaining why he declined “the generous offer”, Kishor tweeted that in his opinion, “more than me, the party needs leadership and collective will to fix the deep-rooted structural problems through transformational reforms.”

Sources privy to Kishor’s deliberations with the Gandhis said that the two sides had decided to close the negotiations “amicably” after the poll strategist declined to join the EAG due to the party leadership’s reluctance to accept the “transformational reforms” he wanted to carry out. Surjewala’s tweet followed by PK’s tweet was part of an agreed formula.

Sources, however, said that this might not be the end of negotiations between the two. “It hasn’t worked out this time but nothing closes permanently in politics,” a Congress leader told ThePrint.

ThePrint reached out to Kishor for comment through calls and text messages. This report will be updated if and when he replies.


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


‘My way or the highway’

In his interviews earlier, the poll strategist had favoured a “Nadda model” for the Congress, which essentially meant that the Gandhis (equivalent to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s context) should control the party but with a non-Gandhi as its president. In his presentation to the Congress, though, Kishor dropped this idea and suggested Priyanka Vadra’s name as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) president. This, Congress functionaries say, didn’t find favour with the party leadership. 

“Forming an Empowered Group for 2024 was his suggestion, which we accepted. He wanted to be in charge of the organisation and election management. We said we don’t mind both demands. P Chidambaram was asked to convey it to him. But he wanted his way about the leadership, too,” another member of the committee told ThePrint.

According to Congress leaders, Kishor had told them about the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC)’s talks with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). They claimed he had told them that he was putting that negotiation on hold until his “relationship” with the Congress was defined. But on Monday, he went ahead and sealed the deal with the TRS, the Congress’s principal political rival in Telangana. 

“We were never clear about his relationship with the Congress. Prashant Kishor told us that he had nothing to do with the I-PAC but it ‘listens’ to him. When we asked whether he would be coming to the Congress with or without the I-PAC, he said he was ready for either. His only point was that if he brings the I-PAC to work with the Congress, it will be expensive,” a senior Congress leader told ThePrint.

According to the leader, Kishor told the party that it would have to pay for 5,000 people who would work for the Congress, with each costing around Rs one lakh per month on average. “He even offered to help the Congress collect the funds. But he was ready to come without the I-PAC, too,” said the Congress leader.

Members of the committee that studied PK’s blueprint said that his suggestions to revive the Congress were “very good” and the party was keen on taking him on board. 

“For instance, he said that the Congress spends its money in one month leading to the election. He said it should be spent throughout the year. And we liked the idea. Wish he had joined us!” said a Delhi-based Congress leader, blaming Kishor’s “my way or the highway” approach for the collapse of negotiations.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also Read: Young, reclusive, ‘brilliant’ — meet Sunil Kanugolu, the ‘other Prashant Kishor’ of Congress


 

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