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Prashant Kishor adds warning to Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi’s UP visit

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: A new tweet by Political strategist, Prashant Kishor, signalling ‘deep rooted problems’ in the Congress party comes in the context of the media blitz surrounding the visit of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to the families of the Lakhimpur farmers run over by a minister’s car in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday. Talking about the gory in Lakhimpur, he said: “there are no quick fixes to the deep-seated problems and structural weakness of (the) GOP (Big Old Party)”.

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Mr Kishor, however, appeared today to suggest the impact of the Gandhis’ foray should be read with caution, pronouncing that:

Mr Kishor, who is 44, declared himself retired as an election strategist on media in May on the day that his client, Mamata Banerjee, won a lush victory in Bengal, defeating an all-or-nothing campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to end her run as Chief Minister.

Mr Kishor, having configured large parts of that big result for Ms Banerjee, said he was done with strategizing for politicians, though his organization, I-PAC would remain in business.

Then came the news that he was in negotiations with the Gandhis to create a role within the Congress that would give him heft, power and responsibility in smacking it out of its long-running slump.

There were many within the Congress who felt Mr Kishor’s entry would further divide the party at a time when it’s barely keeping it together – the “G-23”, a cluster of senior leaders who have publicly sought “visible” leadership from the Gandhis as well as urgent elections for all posts in the Congress, have repeatedly lodged complaints about decisions being taken without their involvement, or indeed without any discussion – and more, accountability- for the Gandhis, in particular for Rahul, who is seen as taking all key decisions while his mother, Sonia Gandhi, is officially the President.

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The fact that Mr Kishor’s discussions were being conducted directly with the Gandhis raised many an antenna. And then came the news that the talks were derailed. Mr Kishor wanted a free hand in reworking the party’s structure.

But he reportedly refused to be accountable for the upcoming state elections which include the politically-key state of Uttar Pradesh because he said there wasn’t enough time for him to course correct the party and take ownership of this round of elections. This was not acceptable to Rahul Gandhi.

Then came the revelation of a senior leader of the Congress in Goa that he was exiting the party to join Mamata Banerjee’s. The switch, he proclaimed, had been facilitated by Mr Kishor. At a press conference, Luizinho Faleiro said, “Of course, he had approached me. Just a few days back,” he said when asked if Mr Kishor had reached out to him to join the party that the strategist helped win an exceptionally difficult election against the BJP in Bengal in May.

“He didn’t tell me to join the TMC but he did an analysis. People in Goa are angry with BJP. Mining has stopped. The economy is in a meltdown. There are no jobs. Goa is looking for an alternative. Didi is the only force. Despite the pressure, they abused her, used government agencies. The country needs a leader like Didi,” he said.

Priyanka Gandhi has been appointed by the Congress to take charge of Uttar Pradesh. On Sunday, the country’s junior Home Minister, Ajay Mishra, was holding an event at which the Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya was to serve as the big draw. As Mr Mishra’s convoy was heading to the location of the event, it passed a group of farmers who had gathered to demonstrate their opposition to the event as part of a nationwide pushback against three new farm laws introduced last year by the centre.

A black SUV came careening at the farmers and hit them – the video is tough to watch, capturing as it does the brute force with which the farmers were hit. Mr Mishra said later that the car was his, but that his son, Ajay Mishra, was not driving it, a charge levelled by farmers. He also said that the driver of the car lost control after it was pelted with stones by the crowd – a scenario that is not backed up by the footage. Four farmers were killed; in retaliatory violence, four others, including a journalist, died.

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Mr Mishra’s son has been accused of murder by the police. Till a few days ago, he was available for interviews with television channels. Today, he was a no-show for his questioning by the cops who, last evening, posted a notice on the family home demanding he show up for interrogation.

The Gandhis’ trip that followed was infused with drama. On Monday, Priyanka Gandhi headed to Lakhimpur Kheri, where the farmers were killed, but was detained at a spot, about 450 kms away. She spent the night there, protesting against her confinement. Because she had her phone with her, she did a long interview with NDTV outlining the many lapses in the UP government trying to ban her visit to Lakhimpur Kheri On Wednesday, her brother landed in Lucknow. Upon being told that he would have to use a UP police car to head to his sister, he said he would not leave the airport. After a short standoff, he was allowed to use his own car.

That night, the Gandhis met with the families of the farmers who were killed. Their supporters claimed the episode counters the criticism that the Gandhis are occasional politicians with questionable instincts. Mr Kishor’s assessment today makes it clear that he thinks differently – and that the party needs a complete overhaul before it can claim pole position in an anti-BJP league for the next general election in 2024. It also enforces that the Gandhis and “PK”, as he is known, are not in detente.

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