Political strategist Prashant Kishore reached Kolkata on Wednesday to participate in the Martyrs’ Day rally led by the Trinamool Congress in remembrance of the 13 people who were killed at a Youth Congress rally in 1993. The TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was then the leader of the Youth Congress.
Kishor’s visit comes at the backdrop of the controversy over the hacking of phone numbers of India’s top politicians, journalists and dignitaries using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
Kishor was among the potential targets of surveillance through Pegasus. The Wire reported that amid the West Bengal assembly elections held recently, Kishor’s phone was hacked using Pegasus. On April 28, only a day before the final phase of voting in West Bengal’s eight-phase assembly election, Amnesty’s forensic research discovered indications of infection on Kishor’s phone.
The mobile numbers of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, BJP ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Bengal CM Banerjee, were also a potential target for surveillance by a government client of NSO Group, the news report said.
Last week, Kishor met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the Gandhi siblings — Rahul and Priyanka —sparking buzz of a strategy in the works to halt the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 elections.
There was speculation that the meeting at Rahul Gandhi’s residence was related to the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections as leaders such as former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat, who also is the Congress in-charge for Punjab, and KC Venugopal, general secretary (organisation), were spotted entering the premises.
However, sources aware of the developments said since the entire Gandhi family was present for the meeting, the agenda was national politics — specifically sprucing up a blueprint for the 2024 polls.
The poll strategist, who shares a bonhomie with regional satraps, also met NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar thrice last month, signalling talks were on for a consolidated front against the BJP. This was accentuated by the spectacular victory of the TMC in the recent Bengal polls in which Kishor played a crucial role.
Banerjee was congratulated by several opposition leaders for her feat, with many political observers calling it a soft signal of unity.
While Kishor is of the view that a “third front” per say is a futile exercise — he had earlier said he doesn’t believe a “third or fourth front can challenge BJP as history has also shown such fronts do not have capacity”, the latest meeting with the Gandhis hints at a major plan in the works to come up with not just an opposition bloc but a face to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After returning to power in West Bengal, the TMC leadership had announced that the party will observe the Martyrs’ Day on July 21 unlike any other in the past, in a bid to expand its outreach outside Bengal.
The TMC Supremo’s Martyrs’ Day speech will be telecast on giant screens across Bengal. Besides, the party will telecast the same in four BJP-ruled states — Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tripura — and Delhi.