Prashant Kishor-Congress Split: What Went Wrong


This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.

The big political buzz this week was the break-up of star poll strategist, Prashant Kishor and the Congress party. It was almost a done deal, and then it dramatically fell apart. The question is – why? Well, to begin with, PK, as he is called, wanted a free hand to run things as he wished. This was not acceptable to the Congress, which offered him a position on what it called an empowered group or committee that would look at the 2024 election campaign. PK likes to have a direct line to all leaders that he works with. Whether it was Prime Minister Modi or Mamata Banerjee. He wanted the same with Sonia Gandhi. But the Congress has a more collective setup. It is after all, a party that’s more than a 100 years old. Sources tell NDTV that PK was offered the functional responsibility of election management of this empowered Congress committee that would look at the 2024 campaign. But PK wanted to be Political Secretary to Congress president, Sonia Gandhi or the vice-president of the party. There was also the trust factor. A section of the Congress views PK warily because of his past associations with other political parties, particularly, the BJP.

Prashant Kishor has worked with a broad spectrum of political parties – the most famous, of course, is the BJP. He was the key driver of Narendra Modi’s hugely successful election campaign in 2014. He then went on to handle a series of successful campaigns from the JD(U) in Bihar in 2015 to the DMK in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign in Delhi and the YSR Congress of Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. And now there is the TRS as well. Senior Congress leader, Digvijaya Singh had told NDTV that PK’s lack of ideological commitment was an issue with some, though his ideas to revive the Congress were, as he put it, “very good.” Over the weekend, PK’s election team called I-PAC tied up with Congress rival the TRS in Telangana. That also upset a section of the Congress leadership which had misgivings about Prashant Kishor in any case. He himself insists that he has nothing to do with I-PAC anymore. And stepped down from it several months ago. But again, the big issue with PK does remain the trust factor. One report says that at the time he first got into talks with the Congress last year, he was also telling Sharad Pawar’s NCP to merge with the TMC, in order to create an alternative national party to take on the BJP – that is, an alternative to the Congress.

The Congress may not have tied up with Prashant Kishor, but they do believe that his proposals to revive the party will help and they do plan to implement some of them. It’s also not the first time that they’ve parted ways. PK’s profile has risen dramatically in the last eight years. He is moody, unpredictable, and has ruffled many feathers along the way. He briefly joined the JD(U) as vice-president, only to leave in a huff sometime later. That was the end of his own personal political career at that time. His audacious ambition, though, is a major driving force in his success. Sample his draft presentation to the Congress party that was made almost a year ago for its revival. He suggested that a non-Gandh should be the working president of the party, though Sonia Gandhi should continue as president. The other suggestion was for Rahul Gandhi to head the Congress’ Parliamentary Board and for Priyanka Gandhi to be General Secretary of the party’s coordination.

The draft is pretty blunt about what is wrong with the Congress – from a “jaded and aged leadership” to a “complete disconnect with the grassroots.” PK pointed out that the Congress’ last major public outreach campaign was Rajiv Gandhi’s Bharat Yatra way back in 1990. He also says that the Congress has stopped being a democratic organization with more than 65% of district presidents yet to even meet the Congress president or even a secretary in the organization. So his plan pushed for what he calls the reincarnation of the Congress while preserving its core values, but losing the sense of entitlement and sycophancy that has gripped the party for decades. It also includes creating an army of grassroots leaders and an ecosystem of what he called supportive media. Senior Congress leader, P Chidambaram – who was part of a committee that Sonia Gandhi set up to study PK’s proposals, however, told NDTV that the final presentation said nothing on who should lead the Congress and focused on data as well as the party’s revival from the ground up. For the Congress, which has suffered a series of election setbacks since 2014, it’s pretty much a matter of life and death. Nothing has been working for them.

The party has been struggling on a number of fronts, from a lack of clear leadership to organizational weaknesses that have cost it state after state. If you look at data compiled by the Trivedi Center for Political Data at Ashoka University, it shows that the Congress’ decline actually started way back in the mid-80s. In 1984 they had a strike rate of 82% winning 404 out of 491 seats they contested. But since then they’ve been on the decline. They’ve never reached the 50% strike rate after that ever again. If you look at 2004 when the Congress formed the first UPA government with coalition partners, their strike rate that time was 35% Now that actually went up in 2009 when Dr. Manmohan Singh won a second term up to 47%. But then in the 2014 Modi wave, this was reduced to a strike rate of just 9%. So is it the end of the road for PK and the Congress? Never say never in Indian politics – the doors may still be open.

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