Prashant Kishor, a successful poll strategist, recently warned the Congress that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was there for the long term and Rahul Gandhi could ignore this fact only at his own peril. “Even if they throw away (sic) Modi, (the) BJP is not going anywhere. You will have to fight it out for many decades,” he said. The sting in the tail was reserved for Rahul Gandhi, “He probably thinks that it is just a matter of time, when people will throw him (Modi) away (sic). That is not happening.”
The singling out of Rahul Gandhi for gratuitous advice appears particularly malevolent. Irrespective of his party’s electoral fortunes, Rahul Gandhi has remained undeniably the most trenchant critics of Prime Minister Modi’s politics of exclusion. Since he leaves no opportunity to take the BJP and its ideology head on, the reasons for Kishor’s malicious remarks must lie elsewhere.
Kishor’s turnaround from a political wannabe wanting to enter the Congress till July this year, to someone intent on breaking it, calls for some explanation. Goa, where he made this statement is also the state where Kishor facilitated defections from the Congress. Former Congress chief minister of Goa, Luizinho Falerio who recently joined the Trinamul Congress (TMC) revealed that it was Kishore and his consultancy firm Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) that facilitated his entry into the TMC and that no one from the TMC had approached him. He then joined the TMC with nine other Congress leaders.
Besides Goa, Kishor is also trying to pave the way for the TMC’s entry in the north-eastern states of Meghalaya and Tripura along similar lines. In Meghalaya, he tried, but failed to get former Congress Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma, along with a dozen others, to defect to the TMC. In Tripura, the ruling BJP state government tried to block a similar operation by confining 23 members of Kishor’s firm IPAC to their hotel rooms in Agartala under the guise of Covid protocol in July-end.
Now Kishor's consultancy firm in tandem with Sushmita Dev, a Congress-defector to the TMC, is trying to forge an alliance in Tripura with another former Congressman, Pradyot Kishore Debbarma of the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance.
Kishor’s moves against the Congress seem to have been triggered by his failure to secure a high-level lateral entry into the party. In return, he promised to unify the Opposition against the BJP and electoral success to a party that has not had many victories since 2014.
He laid out six conditions for the Gandhi family in a powerpoint presentation made in July. First, that he be allowed to create a parallel party structure from block level upwards. Second, those so inducted be fielded as candidates for at least one election – from Panchayat to Lok Sabha -- within six years of joining. Third, that he be in-charge of the Central Election Committee of the party (where he would control candidate selection). Fourth, that while Rahul Gandhi would strengthen the party ideologically, Kishor would look after the organisation. Fifth, that he be allowed to set up a school for training party cadres (a proposal he had made to candidate Narendra Modi in 2013 also). And, lastly, that he be the party’s emissary to forge Opposition Unity.
Unfortunately several things went wrong for him. The Opposition appeared to coalesce without his intervention when 19 Opposition parties attended a virtual meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the third week of August. They seemed to agree that they could pose a credible challenge to the BJP only if they came together for the 2024 general election. The meeting was attended among others by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Trinamul Congress), Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray(Shiv Sena), Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party), Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), Tejaswi Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India – Marxist), D Raja (Communist Party of India), Mehbooba Mufti (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and Farooq Abdullah (national Conference). The convening capacity of Kishor across Opposition parties seemed to be quite unnecessary.
Kishor’s proposal was nonetheless shared by the Gandhis with some senior leaders of the party. They favoured his induction but his conditions for virtual takeover of the party were not acceptable. The inflated role he proposed was acerbically compared by some Congressmen to the takeover of India by the East India Company with the local satraps reduced to ceremonial roles.
Kishor's wooing of the Congress led him to neglect an alternative route to entering national politics through Mamata Banerjee’s help whom he had assisted in winning the West Bengal elections. Banerjee’s largesse meanwhile was distributed to others. Now with the Congress shutting its doors on him, he is probably trying to woo her back by engineering by engineering defections from the Congress to the TMC.
Kishor, meanwhile, has been dubbed as the BJP’s Trojan horse by some Congressmen. They cite Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar who publicly admitted that Kishor was inducted into his party at the behest of Amit Shah of BJP. For his role in the JD (U)’s campaign in the 2015 state assembly election, he was rewarded by being appointed National Vice President of the JD (U). Kumar even described him as “the future” only to eventually boot him out for his extravagant statements ignoring party organisation and structure.
Kishor may be forgiven for developing political ambitions because of the spectacular electoral victories he has organised for others. He perhaps believes that he understands politics better than others. Of all parties Congress had the greatest potential and national structure to catapult him as a national leader. It still commands at least 20 percent of the popular vote and is also “here to stay” for some time. Now he has turned to the TMC. Chances are that the politically wily Mamata Banerjee will make full use of the poll strategist and yet one day he may be forced to ask himself, “How did this happen to me?”