Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who was said to be in talks with the Congress, on Friday sprang a surprise by taking potshots at the party leadership, signaling that his entry into the grand old party has hit fresh roadblocks.
Kishor said those hoping for a revival of the Congress based on its Lakhimpur Kheri intervention are setting themselves up for a big disappointment.
With Kishor seen as one of the strategists in the Trinamool Congress’s victory in the recent West Bengal Assembly elections, and subsequently close to joining the Congress, his remarks triggered a war of words between the two parties.
“People looking for a quick, spontaneous revival of GOP led opposition based on #LakhimpurKheri incident are setting themselves up for a big disappointment. Unfortunately, there are no quick fix solutions to the deep-rooted problems and structural weakness of GOP,” Kishor tweeted.
In what was seen as a counter, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel tweeted later in the afternoon, “People looking for a “national” alternative based on poaching INC functionaries who can’t win even their own seats is in for a big disappointment. Unfortunately, to become a national alternative deep-rooted and concerted efforts are needed and there are no quick- fix solutions.”
Late evening, a tweet from the TMC’s official Twitter handle stated, “Rich words coming from a first-time CM. Punching above your weight doesn’t bring honour to you, Mr. @bhupeshbaghel. What a shoddy attempt to please the high command! By the way, is @INCIndia going to try to erase the historical defeat at Amethi through yet another Twitter Trend?”
Kishor’s remarks, seen as aimed at the Gandhi siblings, come at a time when the aggressive political stance by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths had enthused a section of Congress leaders, who believe the Gandhis are finally getting their act together. The Congress, these leaders believe, needed to show aggression, especially since parties such as TMC are trying to project their national ambitions.
The aggression by the Gandhi siblings was also seen in the context of recent potshots taken at the leadership by some of the ‘G 23’ leaders. After the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, Rahul and Priyanka led from the front, rallied party leaders, including chief ministers, and sources said are working on a plan to keep the issue politically alive.
Kishor was in talks with the Gandhis for making a formal entry into the Congress, and the leaders are believed to have been agreeable, too. Sources close to Rahul had said that he had advised Kishor to join the party instead of hoping to play a role in election and campaign management of the party.
In fact, the Congress leadership, it is learnt, had discussed a “plan of action” proposed by Kishor to revive and rejuvenate the party and make it battle-ready for 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In July, The Indian Express had reported that members of the Congress Working Committee are meeting in groups to discuss what is said to be a “reform and revival” agenda for the party.
Sources in the party had then said that the blueprint in discussion was submitted by Kishor during his meeting with the Gandhis in July — he had met Rahul and Priyanka on July 13, and had had at least one meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi earlier.
Against this backdrop, Kishor’s tweet on Friday came as a surprise to many in the party.
A section of Congress leaders said his entry has hit rough weather, given his continued association with the TMC, which is increasingly criticising the Congress in its quest to carve out a space in national politics.
“At some level, his remarks show frustration, too, and perhaps desperation,” a senior Congress leader said. “His stress on ‘deep-rooted problems and structural weakness’ is interesting, as he was said to be advising the Gandhis on addressing these very same issues. Perhaps things are not moving the way he had envisaged.”
Another leader, who has always been critical of Kishor, claimed he is batting for TMC.
A leader considered close to Rahul said every word of Kishor “should not be analysed and dissected”.
“He operates at different levels. Our leaders are perhaps naïve when they engage with him. The Gandhis have left no stone unturned to build the Lakhimpur incident into a potent weapon against the BJP. And he is trying to defuse it. So who is he batting for,” the leader said.