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The man who is fixing Congress' public connect

By Kavita Chowdhury
March 29, 2016 08:44 IST
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Prashant Kishor, the man who led Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar to victory, has his task cut out for him as he tries to secure victory for the Congress in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, reports Kavita Chowdhury.

Also please read: Will Prashant Kishor be third time lucky?

Many in the party, especially the old guard, view Prashant Kishor with some amount of suspicion. However, the poll strategist is said to be confident that all factions will fall in line once campaign gains traction. Here’s an analysis of the style and strategy of the man who did the magic for Narendra Modi and then Nitish Kumar, and who is now consulting for the Congress

Prashant Kishor and his team of young professionals, entrusted with the mammoth task of securing victory for the Congress in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, have got a headstart in the former state, where the team has started working with former chief minister Amarinder Singh. In UP, however, it is yet to pick up steam because the Congress in the state is shackled by organisational shortcomings and an incoherent structure.

Kishor’s team, right from the days of the Citizens for Accountable Governance in 2014 and thereafter Indian Political Awareness Committee that handled the Bihar campaign, includes bright graduates from the IITs, IIMs and The Boston Consulting Group. Twenty such youngsters have already started operating from a nodal office at the Congress’ ‘war room’ in Delhi and by the time the election campaigns are in full swing, teams of 100 members each will set up office in Chandigarh and Lucknow, respectively.

The Punjab campaign is slated to kick off from Tuesday, with Singh hitting the road, interacting with party workers across the state, beginning with Gurdaspur. Kishor, according to sources, will thereafter be a frequent face at Singh’s residence, operating in close proximity with the leader.

However, the downside of Kishor’s model of 24x7 direct access with the leader is that the Congress Legislature Party and the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee are in the dark about the party’s election plans and programmes till now. Singh is also PCC chief of the state.

In UP, the team has been carrying out its own surveys on the ground, while Kishor has distributed 14-page forms to Congress district and city presidents seeking their feedback on a range of issues including the dominating castes in their respective regions, reasons for the Congress’ poor performance in contrast to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s better performance during the 2014 polls.

Kishor has also asked them to identify 20 dedicated party workers from each district, who would be willing to work without craving for a ticket, by Thursday.

According to a former member of Kishor’s team, who worked both in the Modi campaign and in Bihar, what sets Kishor’s team apart from other agencies is the thorough ground work, possible only by motivated youngsters. “Extensive data mining, research and analysing the results of the past five to six elections provide valuable inputs for generating an effective communication and branding strategy. What we also do is to closely monitor each of the constituencies, stepping in whenever needed to assist party workers.”

Kishor’s critics, however, see his association with the Congress as a venture fraught with bottlenecks. Both the Congress and UP units have been infamous for factionalism and coteries. This, however, does not worry Kishor, says a party insider. His experience with the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has shown that once an election campaign gains traction, all factions fall in line.

Kishor is said to be unperturbed even by the caste-ridden electoral landscape of UP, possibly banking on how he turned the caste equations in Bihar on its head with the Lalu Yadav-Kumar combine.

Questions were raised as soon as Kishor’s assignment was made public to Congressmen. Some in the old guard viewed him as a disruptive force, forcing Shakeel Ahmed, the general secretary in charge of Punjab, to issue a statement, “Prashant Kishor will have no role in organisational matters or in ticket distribution.”

But, not all within the party are wary of Kishor’s approach. A senior leader who was an integral part of the Congress campaign way back in 1989 recalled how the party had carried out extensive “parivartan rallies” across nine regions in the state.

“Despite that effort -- I myself was part of the stretch from Ballia to Lucknow -- we failed overall. It’s time for a fresh approach, for new ideas like those synonymous with Prashant Kishor.” He dismisses the concerns of several of his partymen as “petty views” of those afraid to lose “direct access” to the top leadership.

On his part, Kishor has made the effort to ‘coordinate’ with general secretaries and state PCC chiefs, taking their suggestions and inputs, but “he does not report to them”, say insiders.

While partymen fret over what ‘PK’ and his role will be in the months leading up to the Punjab and UP polls, Kishor himself has made no attempt to speak out or give interviews. He prefers to remain in the background. He has his work cut out for him, in this brief period, which, according to those in the know, is “not to fix the Congress but to fix the public connect with the Congress”.

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Kavita Chowdhury
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