Prashant Kishor Meets the Gandhis: Is This a Sign of Closer Ties in the Future?
There's a a lot of speculation on what the Gandhis and Prashant Kishor discussed but two aspects are significant.
Initially speculated to be about the Punjab elections due next year, the meeting between political strategist Prashant Kishor and the Congress leadership at former party president Rahul Gandhi's residence ended up becoming about much more than that.
Rahul and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were both said to have been at the meeting while Congress president Sonia Gandhi was reported to have joined virtually. At least two other general secretaries – KC Venugopal and Harish Rawat – were said to have been seen entering Rahul's residence, indicating that they, too, may have been present at the meeting.
This article will try and look at three aspects.
What was on the agenda?
Why is the meeting important?
What Lies Ahead?
WHAT WAS ON THE AGENDA?
The initial speculation was that the meeting was focused on the crisis in the Punjab Congress, given that Kishor is advising Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
However, it became clear that the meeting was about much more.
"He's an important political personality. Naturally, when he meets the party leadership, the discussion is bound to be national in its scope and not just about one state," a party leader said.
According to reports, the strategies to create a unified national alliance against the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections were discussed. A report in Hindustan Times stated that Kishor told the Congress leadership that BJP's presidential candidate could be defeated in 2022 if all Opposition parties come together.
While some in the Congress see Kishor as a Sutradhar for Opposition unity, there are also rumours that he could join Congress sometime in the future.
However all this is still in the realm of speculation.
WHY IS THE MEETING SIGNIFICANT?
Prashant Kishor's previous collaboration with the party, during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections didn't end on a positive note, with the Congress performing poorly in the election despite its alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
Since then there has been some reluctance in the party, particularly Rahul, to have an arrangement with Kishor. However, there has been a channel of communication between the Gandhis and Kishor and it is believed that he shares a good equation with Priyanka.
The opposition to Kishor within the Congress was also strengthened by the fact that two of his major clients were both parties that had broken away from the Congress – the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Even when he handled the DMK's campaign in Tamil Nadu, Kishor was said to have pushed the party for a much more aggressive approach towards the Congress on seat-sharing.
Kishor's meetings with non-Congress Opposition leaders like NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray also made a few in the Congress allege that he is trying to build a non-Congress Opposition.
However, Kishor, on his part, said that a 'Third Front' or 'Fourth Front' in India is a non-starter, indicating that he sees the Congress as being critical to any national-level anti-BJP alliance.
The Quint had reported earlier that Kishor's meetings weren't an effort at cobbling together a non-Congress Opposition but mainly to start work on a national alternative without necessarily waiting for the Congress to settle its internal issues.
The meeting on Tuesday with the Congress leadership is a natural culmination of this process. It is clear that Kishor's stock with the Congress leadership had improved significantly, following the successful campaigns of Mamata Banerjee's TMC in Bengal and MK Stalin's DMK in Tamil Nadu, both of which were handled by him.
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
Two things got confirmed on Tuesday:
The Congress leadership is open to formally engaging with Kishor and not just through backchannels.
Kishor sees the Congress as integral to any national coalition against the BJP.
These two facts are significant in themselves.
Now, Kishor has after his victory in Bengal and Tamil Nadu said that he would be leaving the political consultancy space. He is likely to leave it to his colleagues at the Indian Political Action Committee
It seems that he is likely to continue interacting with a variety of Opposition leaders in the months to come and become a key figure in the efforts to cobble together a national alternative.
He is also said to be meeting representatives from the civil society and important 'influencers' to help create a narrative that goes beyond political parties.
His IPAC is also said to be in touch with Congress for a possible engagement for the Uttarakhand and Goa Assembly elections next year, besides the role Kishor is playing in Punjab.
For the Congress, seeking Kishor's advise is only a part of the debate within the party on how to resolve its internal crisis and become battle-ready in the run-up to the 2024 elections.
The immediate challenge for the party is to address the leadership issue and balance competing factions in poll bound states like Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa.
The party is also expected to appoint a new leader in the Lok Sabha, replacing Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
The big picture is that it is clear that following the pandemic, the anti-farm law agitation and the Bengal election, the political landscape has changed and that the Opposition does see a chance at effectively taking on the BJP in 2024. Prashant Kishor's initiatives and the sudden urgency in the Congress are both part of the same process.
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