Bengaluru/Hyderabad: The Trinamool Congress (TMC) might be looking to make headway in Goa and the Northeast, but its leaders are also looking to test the waters in India’s southern states.
Political circles in Karnataka and Telangana are abuzz with reports of TMC leaders as well as poll strategist Prashant Kishor — whose political consultancy firm I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) has been advising the TMC — approaching Congress and BJP leaders. Kishor’s presence in Bengaluru on 25 November led to speculation that the TMC was looking to woo ‘disgruntled’ leaders from either party.
“He reached out to popular leaders with a caste/community following. He requested an audience with former CM B.S. Yediyurappa and his son and BJP state vice-president B.Y. Vijayendra, but the request was turned down,” a highly placed source in the Yediyurappa camp of the BJP told ThePrint.
Yediyurappa’s office as well as Vijayendra denied any meeting. “I have not met Prashant Kishor and neither has my father. We are busy with the MLC poll campaign. Our goal is to strengthen the BJP and prepare for the next assembly polls,” Vijayendra told ThePrint.
TMC MP Sushmita Dev, meanwhile, said her party is “not going behind people, but a lot of people are reaching out” to it.
Another TMC leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that leaders from Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu are being considered. Opinions are being sought from party seniors on who all to approach, this leader said.
ThePrint approached Prashant Kishor through SMS and WhatsApp messages, but received no response until the time of publishing. Messages to I-PAC also went unanswered.
Buzz in Karnataka Congress and BJP
Kishor’s visit to Bengaluru came at a time when his political consultancy firm has been carrying out surveys to assess the political reality in Karnataka. He himself had said after the TMC’s victory in Bengal in May that he was “quitting the space“. “I have done enough. It is time for me to take a break and do something else in life. I want to quit this space,” he had told NDTV.
However, sources said I-PAC has been collecting data on whether Karnataka’s political environment is conducive to a new entrant, whether prominent leaders are ‘disgruntled enough’ to quit parties, if celebrities are acceptable in electoral politics and other matters.
Kishor’s visit to Bengaluru set off a buzz in the Congress camp, with speculation rife that he met former CM Siddaramaiah as well as a few prominent leaders from the Lingayat community.
“Siddaramaiah had met Prashant Kishor months ago during the West Bengal assembly election. Kishor had approached Siddaramaiah to pitch his consultancy firm, but ever since Kishor fell out with Rahul Gandhi, Siddaramaiah has not spoken with him,” a Congress MLA and a close aide of Siddaramaiah told ThePrint.
A close aide of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D.K. Shivakumar added: “Shivakumar and M.B. Patil’s names are being floated around unnecessarily. A few second-rung Congress leaders met Kishor when he was in Bengaluru, but not Shivakumar.”
The aide said Lingayat leader Patil, too, did not meet the poll strategist.
Another senior Congress leader said the TMC is “testing the waters perhaps”. “They are looking to woo MPs to join TMC. TMC seems to be hoping to rope in at least three MPs from southern states in the next two months to advance their presence in more states,” this leader said.
Sources in the BJP, meanwhile, said Kishor’s 25 November visit was only the first in a series of visits, expected every two months, for the next year.
“He seems to have held discussions with four-five persons who understand Karnataka’s politics about the ground reality. Leaders may not have responded to his reaching out this time, but he is only setting up base and is expected to reach out multiple times,” a source in the state cabinet, one of whose acquaintances met Kishor, told ThePrint.
In Telangana, Kishor’s team is speculated to have approached three former MPs, who were or are with the Congress. Much like in Karnataka, this comes as part of I-PAC’s efforts to build a team for the TMC in the state. The focus is mostly on candidates for Parliament, according to sources.
“They are reaching out to vocal leaders in the party, ex-MPs and leaders who have a good media presence. Their idea is that the candidate should be powerful and have his own clout independent of the party,” a Congress leader who claimed to have been approached by Kishor’s team, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“Congress is an easy target now for them in Telangana… They cannot touch the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), the ruling party, which is they’re too powerful, and the BJP is also strong,” the leader said.
The I-PAC team was also speculated to have approached former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, who was with the Congress. But when ThePrint approached him over the phone for a comment, Reddy denied any such meeting.
Reddy was earlier with K. Chandrashekar Rao’s TRS, but quit the party and joined the Congress in 2018. Earlier this year, he resigned from the primary membership of the Congress.
State Congress leaders said the TMC is looking for an ‘instant leadership’ in Telangana, hence the search for candidates who have their own following. Such attempts have been going on since October, they said.
Prof. Kodandaram, founder of the Opposition party Telangana Jana Samithi and once a close aide of Chief Minister KCR, was also reportedly approached. Kodandaram denied any such meeting, but a source close to him told ThePrint that he had met TMC members many months ago at a “casual gathering”.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)