FAULT lines are emerging within the Congress over its election campaign management in Uttar Pradesh with the faction arrayed against strategist Prashant Kishor gaining some ground. This intra-party tension, some leaders said, is finding an echo in Punjab, too.
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A senior leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Indian Express that he would not be surprised if Kishor and the Congress part ways sooner rather than later despite his perceived good equations with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Sources said Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh is also not happy with Kishor and has shared his reservations with leaders close to him.
One key difference in views is regarding the campaign plan of Priyanka in Uttar Pradesh. While Kishor is keen that Priyanka campaign extensively and aggressively, sources said the party leadership is not completely on board on this.
In Punjab, sources said the working style of Captain and Kishor are not exactly in sync. Party leaders said the differences deepened last month to the extent that they affected the Congress’s Rahul Sandesh Yatra which is currently on in Uttar Pradesh. The yatras, which were a follow up to Rahul’s kisan yatra, had started on October 15. “We did not get the improvised vehicles for the Rahul Sandesh Yatra on time last month. 75 vehicles were to travel to 75 districts from October 15 and the vehicles did not come. We had announced the programme and were not in a position to cancel because it could have sent a wrong message. We were forced to use other vehicles.
The improvised vehicles started arriving only from October 19 and 20,” said a leader from Uttar Pradesh who is part of the campaign. What has also rankled many in the Congress is Kishor’s meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh earlier this week. Senior leaders said he did not have the party’s mandate to hold talks with Samajwadi Party leaders — a meeting which signalled that the Congress is “desperate” to ally with the SP despite having announced a chief ministerial candidate.
One senior leader, significantly, admitted that the party may not do well in UP and argued Kishor could also be looking for an exit route. The leader, who did not want to be named, said that the family feud in the Samajwadi Party and the Army’s surgical strikes are the critical new factors in the campaign. “A four-cornered contest would have helped the Congress. But the Samajwadi Party is in a bad shape now. Without a four-cornered contest, the Congress may not able to gain much. And it seems Kishor is worried that a poor performance could affect his record,” he said.
Although Kishor has not faced the same level of opposition from within the Congress in Punjab as in UP, there have been some murmurs of resentment against the manner in which his team took over PPCC chief Amarinder Singh’s campaign. Recently, Amarinder and Kishor fell out over Kishor’s meeting with expelled Congressmen Jagmeet Brar and Bir Devinder Singh. “Who is Prashant Kishor to go and meet them?” Amarinder had said at the time. “He should not exceed his brief”. There were also questions about his meeting with Navjot Singh Sidhu.
But the two managed to resolve their differences and have been working together closely again. Kishor’s IPAC managed Amarinder’s three-day Kisan Yatra, and before that, his Halqe Vich Captain, and Coffee with Captain. When asked if any change in Kishor’s UP brief could have an effect in Punjab, Asha Kumari, Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab, said: “Congress is a national party. If they hire or fire an agency in UP, they will do the same for Punjab…If AICC wants to keep someone or not keep that person, unke karyakshetra mey aata hai.”
Kumari said she had not heard anything from AICC that changed Kishor’s status in Punjab for now. “I have no information from either UP Congress or AICC, but of course we are watching what is happening in UP, that he went to talk to A or B,” she said. “Kisi aur State key baarey mey bolna mushkil hota hai”.
“His performance was satisfactory,” said Asha Kumari. Asked why she was referring to him in the past tense, she clarified that she meant “so far”. “For example, today we had a press conference and the chairs were organised by his team. His team gets things ready and well laid out. We do not have to pull out our workers from the field. They can concentrate on the campaign,” she said.
There is a section in the party that’s nervous that if Kishor were to quit his role as strategist, it would send a message to voters that the Congress wasn’t exactly on the winning side. Some others said that even if he quit the party’s poll team in UP, he could continue in Punjab since the “situation for the Congress in this state is better.”