Anand K. Sahay | PK flap: Fragile Cong fails to learn from past history

The Congress, in contrast, is not a single-person party, despite all the appearances

The Congress and election campaign specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Mr Kishor to join the party.

News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Mr Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Mr Kishor at all.

He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party president Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammelled control over the party’s communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew.

It is clear that he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key members of the Group of 23. They have major issues with the Gandhis, but have not threatened to quit the party just because the leadership has not conceded their demands on a here-and-now basis.

It is evident the G-23 are not “gomashtas” (middlemen) but politicians who feel bound by a common ideological thread and imagination even if they might fight with the party leadership on organisational and political issues. Nevertheless, in the present context, while inner-party disagreements and debates might abound on organisational matters or economic ideology, there is consensus on the most important metric — the combating of communal ideas, politics, and policies. Mr Kishor does not shine on this count.

He has shown himself to be completely eclectic. His first client was the then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, in 2011. The poll strategist also planned the marketing and advertising for the Modi campaign when Mr Modi successfully ran for Prime Minister. He is credited with having conceived the aspirant’s 3D rallies and the social media campaign which highlighted good governance since the client had to be rescued from any association with the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat on the then CM’s watch which had drawn worldwide condemnation.

After that big success, Mr Kishor has been in huge demand. A range of political parties have evidently benefited from his counsel. These were generally local ruling parties. It is up for speculation if the consultant would have brought the bacon home for the Trinamul Congress if the West Bengal party had been in the Opposition. It is known that joining hands with Mr Kishor in 2017 failed to revive the Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh.

The trouble is that the Congress learnt little from that experience and once again sought to flirt with the election consultant. This was doubtless a sign of draining out emotionally after suffering defeat upon defeat in state elections. So, it should cause no surprise if Mr Kishor once again comes calling at the drop of a small hint. That is how fragile or fickle the Congress appears to have become in its present avatar.

The party forgets all too often that though it is greatly reduced, it is demonstrated to have some 120 million committed voters who have persisted in their choice through thick and thin. This is probably more than the numbers commanded by the principal regional parties put together, or thereabouts. Of course, support for the Congress is spread very unevenly across the country.

Generally, that does not give the party sufficient heft to ensure victory at the constituency level even for reasonably good candidates. What should the ground tactics be in such a situation? Is an external agent in the shape of a campaign specialist needed to solve the problem? Indeed, is the solution any mystery when the Congress’ ranks are filled with old warhorses at every level who have a well-earned reputation for having a trick or two up their sleeve in all seasons?

If the Congress Party still coheres in the Narendra Modi era when large parts of India are enveloped in the ideology of majority communalism, as daily events and election results lately indicate, the party can’t but have genetic resources that the leadership would do well to tap. That the leadership has failed to do so is the Congress’ primary weakness, and this is from where the first idea of reform needs to emanate.

Nevertheless, not fully grasping this, the leadership in its current state of perceived infirmity, could just seek the hand of God in an outside agent and turn to Mr Kishor yet again. But God is said to help only those who help themselves. If such is the case, and an outsider is permitted entry on terms, then failure may be said to be preordained, as in UP in 2017. The Congress will come out of it shaken and tarred, and the consultant is apt to lose his image built on the strength of advising winning parties. Both sides should resist the charms of such an alignment.

Partly because a modicum of the democracy ideology and good sense still inhabit the Congress, and partly under high-pitched pressure mounted by the G-23, otherwise a long-spent force that had once fattened on the patronage from the Gandhis, the Congress happens to be in the middle of an organisational election after decades.

This was before Mr Kishor entered the picture. Interestingly, the consultant too has reportedly advised organisational polls as a means to fight stasis within. In that case, what’s so special about external counsel?

As for Mr Kishor, he has successfully counselled only one-man/one-woman parties. When Mr Modi had hired him, the BJP too had become a one-man show, which it remains to this day.

The Congress, in contrast, is not a single-person party, despite all the appearances. In fact, it is a maze, a labyrinthine entity, in which multiple interests and groups operate, sweetly cutting one another even when in the Opposition. That indeed is one of its charms. The Congress is like no other party in the country and the Gandhis don’t really control it, although they may be its most important inner spirit. But that could well change if the country is at an inflexion point.

Jamnalal Bajaj, a major industrialist, had renounced the British title of “Rai Bahadur” to be a member of the Congress. In time, he became an elected member of the party’s Working Committee. Businessmen today seek shortcuts. The Congress Party too looks guilty of that.

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