Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the fact that a poll strategist can swing a party's fortunes was difficult for political experts to digest. However, their skepticism was challenged after the arrival of Prashant Kishor (PK), the man behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi's success.
At present, the graph of the master strategist is quite high, especially after Nitish Kumar's win in last year's Bihar Assembly elections. The two consecutive victories have left political pundits wondering if PK has the Midas touch.
After the Bihar polls' verdict, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi handed over the reins of his party's political campaigns in two upcoming Assembly polls, i.e. Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, to Prashant Kishor. The latter is more important as it also accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats. If the Congress wants to form a government at the Centre in 2019, then Rahul will have to inject life in UP Congress, which is lying moribund at present.
According to our sources, as the UP elections are approaching, PK is finding it quite difficult to revive the Congress' floundering fortunes. Even while the poll strategist is busy strategising for the elections, here's why it is an uphill task for him.
A glorious past, but a 'bleak' present
There was a time when the Congress had a stronghold in UP. Be it Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, most of the time, they were all elected from UP parliamentary seats.
The Congress was marginalised in the state in the post-Mandal era. During that time, the state also witnessed the Ayodhya movement. The party lost its dedicated vote banks to different political parties, which were subsequently floated. The Muslim vote bank shifted towards Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and the Dalits to Bahujan Samaj Party. The upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Unfortunately, the Congress was left with no one to rely upon in the elections.
In 2012, the party got only 28 seats in the 403-member Assembly and in the 2014 General Elections, the party could only secure two seats out of 80 and the winning candidates were the mother-son duo of the Gandhi family.
This is what PK has to deal with. After back to back victories, he was confident of catapulting Congress to power but after seeing the ground reeality in UP, he is reported to have scaled down the target to 100 plus Assembly seats only.
Not all is well within the party
PK and his strategies are not finding favour with many Congress leaders. Recently, he irked some senior Congress leaders after he organised a meeting in Kanpur and "ignored"them by not inviting them for the same. Following this move, many party leaders expressed their anger and sent a formal complaint to Rahul Gandhi for looking into the matter as well.
At a time when the party is in such bad shape, internal rifts will definitely hamper PK's attempts to revive the Congress.
Congress can't plead anti-incumbency
Even as the Modi government completes two years, the Congress has failed to convince people to think of an alternative to the NDA despite it failing to flag off major economic reforms. Recently, the Congress also lost Assam to the BJP.
Though the BJP saw major reverses in Bihar and Delhi, PM Modi still continues to score more than Rahul Gandhi on the popularity metre.
Leadership important, not logistics
Rahul Gandhi never held a portfolio and voters are not so sure about his leadership skills. In such a scenario, logistics won't be of any help. PK really needs a face for the elections and he will have to overcome all the 'drawbacks' of Rahul Gandhi. The fact is that if people are unable to identify themselves with a leader, then all the strategising in the world will come to naught.
Recent by-election results tell a different tale
The recent by-poll result in which the SP won both the seats of Jangipur and Bilari, have indicated that the Congress is nowhere near the SP and the BJP. In Bilari, the SP candidate got 90,464 votes, the BJP 83,371 votes. The Congress, which came third, got only 3,670 votes.
In Jangipur, the SP candidate got 82,316 votes, the BJP got 60,224, and the Congress, which came at fourth place, got only 6,852 votes.
The vote margin has rung a clear signal that PK needs to work really hard for the Congress to win some seats in the upcoming elections.