The butt of but (yet; unless; if not) expressions of a section of Congress old guard, who while appreciating what Prashant Kishor (PK) had proposed at 10 Janpath on 16 April, created enough doubts in the mind of Sonia Gandhi about Rahul Gandhi’s imminence and that led to abortion of the stillborn grandiose plan for restructuring the Grand Old Party in the run up to 2024. PK sought commanding heights. He was offered a membership of the proposed Empowered Action Group (EAG), in which he was to be one among eight equals. The mismatch between the overture and the recipient’s assumption ended the ten-day much hyped reincarnation melodrama of the GOP. Rahul Gandhi, after attending the 16 April slideshow left on a sojourn overseas. Post the four-hour-long presentation, AICC general secretary K. Venugopal had gleefully told news agency ANI that PK had prepared a restructuring plan and had advised the Congress to concentrate on 370 seats. In the ensuing ten days, Sonia Gandhi consulted a host of senior colleagues. Ambika Soni, Jairam Ramesh, P. Chidambaram, Ajay Maken, Mallikarjun Kharge, Kamal Nath are said to be among those who saw merit. A.K. Anthony, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel, Digvijaya Singh appreciated PK; however, they butted in with ifs and buts about the position of the first family, especially the projection of Rahul Gandhi as the face against Narendra Modi, if PK’s plan was accepted in toto. Among his recommendations while accepting the suzerainty of the Gandhis, PK had proposed that a non-Gandhi face be made the “chief operating officer” of the party. He had also proposed that the UPA be headed by a person from outside the party, who should be a former Congressperson (read: Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee).
PK had chided the party with data to show that it fielded 170 candidates in the past three polls despite these candidates having drawn a blank in all occasions. He also suggested one-family-one-ticket formula. Vested interests saw red. While Rahul Gandhi was abroad, his confidant, Manickam Tagore, who is AICC in charge for Telangana, in a series of tweets questioned if the party should trust a person who was “friends with the enemy”. His reference was to the pact between PK’s I-PAC and Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the ruling party in Hyderabad with which Congress is in direct contest. The abortion was announced in a Tweet by AICC spokesman Randeep Surjewala, which offered PK a slot in the EAG and also announced that PK had “declined”. Surjewala recorded his appreciation for PK’s “efforts and suggestions”. PK, on his part, thanked Congress for its “generous offer”, which he did not accept, saying, and “more than me the party needs leadership and collective will to fix the deep rooted structural problems through transformational reforms”.
While strobe lights were focused on PK’s interactions in New Delhi, simultaneously, TRS in Hyderabad was celebrating its 21st anniversary. K. Chandrashekhar Rao exhibited his national ambition, while his daughter K. Kavitha, the MP from Nizamabad, and his son, K.T. Ramarao, TRS working president acknowledging the role of I-PAC, endorsed their father’s standpoint. KCR seemed to abandon his “Federal Front” dream and said there was no need for a political front in 2024 and announced that “democracy shall win”. There have been suggestions that TRS rename itself as Bharatiya Rashtra Samiti amd play a national role. During his visit to New Delhi a fortnight back, KCR’s presence was advertised by TRS, with his portraits and the party’s pink flags displayed in road roundabouts. DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin too had similar displays last month. Mamata’s TMC, KCR’s TRS and Stalin’s DMK have openly displayed their ambitions in New Delhi. PK’s advice is available to all three worthies.
In Goa, where PK had advised Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool in the state polls (where TMC drew a blank), the party’s state unit chief Kiran Kandolkar, who at PK’s behest had quit Goa Forward Party to join TMC, resigned from the party on 26 April and blamed PK for the poll debacle. While PK had excelled in advising Mamata Banerjee in the 2021 West Bengal campaign, his advice to TMC in Tripura and Goa thereafter did not yield results. In Goa, on PK’s advice, Mamata inducted a former Congress CM, Luizinho Faleiro and made a sitting MP resign to make Faleiro Rajya Sabha member; during the state polls, Faleiro refused to play ball, leaving Mamata red-faced. Now there is a demand in TMC that Faleiro be asked to resign Rajya Sabha seat to make way for a party loyalist.
PK had a great run while working with parties that have a single, powerful, leader: TMC, DMK, TRS, and YSRCP. Nitish Kumar made him a vice president in JD(U) but the bonhomie did not last long. PK quit JD(U) in a huff. Parlays with Congress began in 2020—they gained momentum in mid-2021. The recent developments were accentuated by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s enthusiasm, which Sonia Gandhi initially endorsed. Rahul Gandhi attended the 16 April meeting but his opinion has not been made clear till the time of writing. The tweets by Manickam Tagore and Surjewala, both Rahul Gandhi acolytes, perhaps indicate the reaction of the foot soldiers of 12 Tughlaq Lane.
There are 12 state polls which will precede the 2024 Lok Sabha election. PK was trying to stitch together a loose confederation in which Congress, while concentrating on the 220 seats where it directly faces BJP (BJP’s current run rate in these seats is 90%) accepts adjustments with regional parties in opposing NDA. Leaders like P. Chidambaram, in interviews past week, have indicated that all is not over. Chidambaram and AICC’s data analytics chief, Praveen Chakravartty have showered encomiums of PK’s analytics and data. The door may have been shut but windows are still open. PK’s presentation sought a pivotal role for him in Congress organisational restructuring and poll management. His insistence on “My way or the Highway” did not succeed. Rahul Gandhi seems to have had his way. For PK, is this the end of the highway? His ties with regional satraps are intact. The possibility of him being pressed into service to stitch an adjustment-based tie up in the run up to 2024 cannot be discounted.