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Grand plan for Grand Old Party ends in a bitter tussle

Prashant Kishor.  

After months of negotiations at several levels, a grand plan for the entry of election strategist Prashant Kishor into the Congress has collapsed into bitterness between the two, and outbursts on Thursday. Until late August, the Congress was trying to fit him into its organisational structure, but his demands were found to be unworkable and the idea was abandoned, according to a senior party functionary.

Mr. Kishor, who advises TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is coordinating her expansion drive outside West Bengal that is undermining the Congress. “Sushmita Dev left the Congress for the TMC when we were still in talks... It is now very clear what his plans were... Good that we did not fall for that,” a senior Congress functionary told The Hindu.

 

Mr. Kishor did not respond to The Hindu’s request for an interview for this story.

Kishor’s demand

A source in the Congress said Mr. Kishor wanted a formal position in the party and as well retain this consulting business with leaders of other political parties. He did not want to be a part of the party strategy for the coming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakkhand. “He said he would start from the Gujarat Assembly election next year,” said a Congress functionary.

These conditions were difficult from the beginning, but former president of Congress Rahul Gandhi asked a three-member committee to consult senior leaders on Mr. Kishor’s induction and other ideas he had outlined for the party’s revival. A. K. Antony, Ambika Soni and K.C. Venugopal spoke to senior leaders, who largely opposed any condition-based induction, sources said.

Provocative Twitter post

Mr. Kishor questioned Mr. Gandhi’s leadership in an oblique but still provocative Twitter post on Thursday, suggesting an alignment of the Congress and other Opposition parties sans Mr. Gandhi. Ms. Banerjee also targeted Mr. Gandhi on Wednesday without naming him. “The IDEA and SPACE that #Congress represents is vital for a strong opposition. But Congress’ leadership is not the DIVINE RIGHT of an individual especially, when the party has lost more than 90% elections in last 10 years,” Mr. Kishor said. “Let opposition leadership be decided democratically.”

Within an hour of this post, Anand Sharma, Congress leader who is part of a groups within the party that had called for organisational elections, posted on Twitter: “Congress, as principal national opposition party, remains a central pillar for a collective national effort….To oppose and defeat the BJP, a broad-based understanding and cooperation among secular, progressive and democratic political parties on people’s issues is the need of hour. That will connect with people’s expectation.”

In July, Mr. Sharma and Ms. Banerjee had a meeting. Last week, Mr. Sharma and Congress president Sonia Gandhi met, ahead of Ms. Banerjee’s visit to Delhi. Mr. Sharma and Mr. Kishore are both outlining the conditions for Opposition unity and the role of the Congress in it, and there appears to be convergence between their views. This is, perhaps, the prelude to a script in the making.

In 2014

It may be recalled that when Narendra Modi emerged as the face of the BJP’s 2014 campaign, beating resistance within, including from patriarch L.K. Advani, Mr. Kishor was his key strategist. In a way, Mr. Modi had taken over the BJP to reshape it. Mr. Kishor had suggested something similar for the revival of the Congress.

Ms. Banerjee possibly believes that it is her turn to lead the Opposition in 2024, as the principal challenger of Mr. Modi. The strategy at play is to target around 50 Lok Sabha seats for the TMC, which could be close to the Congress’s own strength. Even if TMC wins all seats in West Bengal, it will only be 42. Any additional seats from other States, even if only a handful, could buttress her claim to be a national leader. In the cross hairs of this strategy is not Mr. Modi - at least for now. It is Mr. Gandhi.


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 9:18:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/grand-plan-for-grand-old-party-ends-in-a-bitter-tussle/article37812090.ece

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