It was almost after five years that Prashant Kishor walked into Rahul Gandhi‘s residence on Tuesday. The ice was broken and the meeting, which lasted over three hours, predictably grabbed eyeballs. There was a bitter parting between the Congress and the poll strategist following the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections where the ‘UP Ki Ladki’ strategy and slogan failed to take off. In private, after the results were out, Kishor said this was expected as the Congress was stubborn and arrogant. He also said that there was no question of working with the party in the future. But it’s also a fact that Prashant Kishor and Priyanka Vadra would often stay in touch and share a bonhomie. As Kishor delivered two wins in Bengal and Tamil Nadu during the April-May assembly polls this year, many in the Congress looked on and wondered whether only PK, as he is popularly known, could give them that much-needed win.
Prashant Kishor is an advisor to the Congress government in Punjab and, interestingly, was responsible for getting Navjot Singh Sidhu into the party in 2018. Now things are falling apart between Sidhu and Captain Amarinder Singh and it is a huge challenge for the top Congress leadership to find a solution. In the last couple of days, Sidhu has been sending out controversial tweets, trying to make the point that, unlike others who play by the Captain’s rules, he’s the only one who actually understands the people of Punjab. Sidhu is also believed to be keeping an eye on the state Congress president’s post as it is clear that the Captain will continue to remain the chief minister till elections take place in Punjab next year.
Just after the West Bengal results came out in May with a victory for the Trinamool Congress, Kishor, who had worked with the party, publicly stated that he was retiring and would not take up any more political strategising role. But it seems it’s tough to keep a political strategist out of politics, as soon after that he was seen spending a lot of time with Sharad Pawar. The lunches were called courtesy meetings but there’s clearly more to them. This even as TMC chief Mamata Banerjee made it very clear in her Bengal victory speech that she was looking for a national role for herself to take on Narendra Modi in 2024. The only problem is that many other opposition parties in private did concede that considering the Congress had a loyal vote bank in many areas of the country and it was a straight fight between it and the BJP in a couple of states during the April-May polls, the Congress‘s performance shows it has become almost irrelevant.
There is a possibility that Prashant Kishor would be expected to ensure that Congress also pulls up its socks. The bitter parting between the Congress and Prashant Kishor was over Uttar Pradesh and, years later, his meeting with the Gandhi siblings comes just ahead of polls in the state where Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is expected to kick off her electioneering from July 16. It is also unlikely that the Samajwadi Party would change its mind about having an alliance with the Congress party, having burnt its fingers in Uttar Pradesh. Sources say it is doubtful that Kishor would get involved in helping the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, but he is expected to play a bigger role in trying to ensure that there is a proper front against Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Incidentally, Prashant Kishor had played an important role in getting Modi to the Centre as the Prime Minister for the first time in 2014.
And, therefore, his meeting with the Gandhi siblings is very, very significant because sources say there is a possibility that he is looking beyond Punjab. The Congress needs a win desperately, as well as direction. And lots of luck, and a master strategy.