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How Prashant Kishor plans to deliver UP for Congress in 2019

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:58 IST

He has delivered two election victories, both outstandingly. First Narendra Modi's sweep in 2014; then, after switching sides, Nitish Kumar's crushing win over the BJP in Bihar late last year.

Now, Prashant Kishor, the master strategist, has been asked to deliver Uttar Pradesh for the Congress - in 2019 if not in '17.

It's a daunting task - and that's putting it mildly - given the Grand Old Party is all but a marginal player in the country's electorally most significant state. So, how does Kishor plan to surmount this challenge?

Read: Prashant Kishor doesn't think Gogoi should lead Cong in Assam

The key element of his strategy involves revving up the party's moribund organisation into an election-winning machine. This is something that was not part of his job description with Modi or Nitish - he was concerned purely with running the election campaign. In fact, he bypassed party organisations and set up his own war rooms, manned by his own people.

Firing up the machine

This time, it is a completely different ballgame. The Congress has essentially outsourced to Kishor the project of rebuilding the party organisation. And he has about a year before the project goes to test, in the 2017 assembly election. The goal, of course, is the 2019 parliamentary polls.

The Congress holds a measly two of the UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats, and both are represented by the party's first family - Rae Bareli by Sonia Gandhi and Amethi by Rahul. The BJP, in contrast, has 73 seats. The least that would be expected of Kishor is to better the 21 seats delivered by Rahul Gandhi in the 2009 election. For this, of course, he will have to wrest as many seats as possible from the BJP. The Congress' main rival in the state in 2019, thus, will be the BJP, not the SP and the BSP as was the case earlier.

Prashant Kishor's troops: 20 people with 'clean image', 'active political life' in each assembly segment

Kishor has set about the job in earnest. In the past few weeks, he has held a series of meetings with the party's leadership, from the top brass to state and district apparatchiks, apparently to "understand the minds of the people" the party has in UP.

The next order of business is recruiting troops to the cause. He has asked for at least 20 workers from each assembly segment who are willing to work for the party without expecting to be fielded in elections, at least for a few years. These people should moreover have a "clean image" and an "active political life", and must keep a low profile.

Recruiting foot soldiers

These people will be trained by Kishor and assigned tasks in their areas. Primarily, they "will take the socio-political agenda of the Congress to the people and build a perception in its favour". Monitored from Kishor's war room, they will also function as his "eyes and ears" on the ground.

These people, though, will work alongside the existing party organisation, not independent of it. "This is additional to the party organisation. This way we will get more people to take the party's agenda to the people. The existing structure would not be undermined," explains a Congress leader.

Also read: Congress' UP campaign will be Prashant Kishor's toughest battle till date

This whole enterprise has Rahul Gandhi's stamp all over it. Some years ago, he had similarly outsourced the restructuring of the Youth Congress and the NSUI to JM Lyngdoh and TS Krishnamurthy, both former Chief Election Commissioners.

There are good reasons for Kishor to start with the organisation, such as it is in UP. When he took charge of Modi's campaign, he could not only rely on an energised BJP organisation to take the message to the ground but, reportedly, the state machinery of Gujarat as well; same with Nitish in Bihar.

Rahul Gandhi had earlier outsourced Youth Congress, NSUI restructuring to Lyngdoh, TS Krishnamurthy

The Congress, on the other hand, is in power neither in the state nor at the Centre, which requires that the party's organisation is even more efficient at "taking ideas to the grassroots". Hence the need to buttress it with a parallel reliable workforce.

Apparently, Kishor wanted to be Rahul's campaign manager but the Congress vice-president instead asked him to deliver UP for the party.

How he performs will not only have a bearing on the Congress' fortunes, but his own as well.

Edited by Mehraj D Lone

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First published: 18 March 2016, 8:58 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.