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Prashant Kishor's biggest obstacle isn't Amit Shah. It's the Congress old guard

F Ansari | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:54 IST
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The strategist

  • Prashant Kishor is facing his toughest battle up to now: reviving Congress in UP
  • He is facing opposition from the party old guard

More in the story

  • The Congress\' leadership dilemma
  • The UP game plan
  • Old guard versus Rahul Gandhi

A fresh tug of war has begun within the Congress on account of Prashant Kishor's emergence as the party's main strategist.

Kishor, a former public health expert who helped Narendra Modi win the 2014 general elections and Nitish Kumar retain Bihar in 2015, seems to be learning new lessons each day while trying to help the Congress in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

Barely few weeks into his assignment, it has dawned upon Kishor that Congress needs to settle its leadership issue, rejig the party organisation before it can think of reviving itself.

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

This task is beyond Kishor's mandate. Congress president Sonia Gandhi's term has expired and she is reportedly unwilling to continue beyond December 2016. Her son Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the party, who turns 46 in June this year, is ready to take over but behind the scenes. An influential section of Congress leaders is resisting the move.

Team Rahul versus old guard

At a functional level, Team Rahul has been having problems with many AICC functionaries. There were many media reports that Rahul wanted to weed out leaders like Ahmad Patel, Motilal Vora, Janardhan Dwivedi, BK Hariprasad and Ambika Soni before formally taking over as new party chief. But Sonia is reportedly opposed to such a drastic purge and this factor alone is responsible for the delay in settling the leadership issue.

The tussle between Congress old guard and Team Rahul has many notable instances. Former Chhatisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi and his son were issued show cause notice for their alleged quid pro quo with the BJP. Just when Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel thought he had Rahul's approval, a section of the old guard bailed out the Jogis. The same group had acted decisively when Janardhan Dwivedi was served a show cause notice for describing prime minister Narendra Modi as someone who represents "Bhartiyata" (Indian-ness).

Congress leader Ajay Maken had acted swiftly quoting various controversies around Modi including the Gujarat riots, to question Dwivedi's claim, but disciplinary proceedings were quietly dropped. This is despite Rahul's reported bid to make an example out of Dwivedi.

Sonia Gandhi is reportedly unwilling to continue as Congress president beyond December 2016

Congress insiders say the old guard is also actively checking the rise of Kishor. Recently, AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmad told a business paper that Kishor's mandate in Punjab and Bihar is to coordinate with state Congress chiefs. Shakeel, who is considered close to Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmad Patel also dispelled impression that Kishor is reporting directly to Rahul.

Former Union minister RP.N Singh too had asked Rahul about Kishor's role when he met top Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders on 2 March to discuss the UP assembly elections. The meeting held at Congress' War Room at 15, Gurudwara Rakabgunj Road saw most UP Congress leaders trying to cold shoulder Kishor. Many attributed their behaviour to an article published in a business newspaper on 29 February that said Kishor wanted all UP Congress leaders to report to him and that he would be selecting the candidates for the UP elections.

When Rahul joined the War Room meeting at around 5:30 pm after his speech in Parliament, Singh got up and reportedly asked Rahul about Kishor's role.

Rahul told him that Kishor will be helping him during the elections and shall co-ordinate with them as and when required.

Also read- Rahul Gandhi 2.0: Pappu can dance! With a little help from Prashant Kishor

In Punjab too, Captain Amarinder Singh has certain reservations about Kishor's style of functioning. Interestingly, the method of communication between the two is that both Kishor and Captain inform Rahul about key deliberations to avoid any misunderstanding.

Besides Prashant Kishor, battleground Uttar Pradesh has brought in focus another "P" word - Priyanka Gandhi.

Kishor's initial feedback has been that without Priynaka's active involvement in Uttar Pradesh, the party's prospects are dim. Pitted against a resurgent BJP, the ruling Samajwadi Party and a disciplined BSP, the Congress in UP is hopelessly dependent on the Nehru-Gandhi family.

UP Congress leaders said to have made it clear to Kishor that in order to challenge BJP, SP and BSP, the Congress must have a central figure in addition, not just catchy slogans. UP voters would not want to vote for relatively unknown and uncharismatic congressmen like Shriprakash Jaiswal, Nirmal Khatri or Beni Prasad Verma.

Some Congressmen have floated Shiela Dikshit's name as a possible face for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. She is the daughter-in-law of veteran Congress leader Uma Shankar Dikshit, who hailed from UP. But age and her poor performance in Delhi go against her.

Old timers recall that before getting Delhi assignment in 1998, Dikshit lost 3 successive Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh.

Read more- Scramble for RS in Cong: Chidambaram may get wild card, Sharma to return

As far as Priyanka Gandhi is concerned, it won't be easy for her to take up a formal position in UP.

At the same time, there is no denying that if she is able to get the number 2 slot in the UP state elections, it would bolster the Congress' fortunes even at the national level.

In May 2014, shortly after the party's worst ever electoral defeat, a senior Congress leader narrated a story about Yasser Arafat's condolence visit to Delhi in May 1991 following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Apparently, a group of Congressmen had told the Palestinian leader, "Brother, we see darkness all around us." Arafat, himself deeply moved, quoted an Arabic proverb to console them: "When a dust storm engulfs us, we lie low instead of battling it. Once the storm passes away, we regroup."

The question is - when is the party going to regroup? When will Rahul and Sonia muster enough courage and set their house in order? And when will Kishor get suitable conditions to unleash his magic?

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 12 March 2016, 6:54 IST
 
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