Prashant Kishore
Poll strategist Prashant Kishore Image Credit: ANI

The Congress party and ace political campaign brain Prashant Kishor have been in an on-again, off-again relationship since 2016.

On Sunday, 16 April, Kishor made a presentation before the top brass of the Indian National Congress for the revival of the dying opposition party. Ten days later, the Congress party’s main spokesperson tweeted that Kishor had declined their offer to join the Empowered Action Group set up by the party.

The strangest part of this saga is how public it has been. For ten days, the top news headlines in India were about his talks with the Congress party. One has never heard of any political party, whether it is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or any small regional outfit, carrying out its negotiations to recruit one individual in such limelight.

The detailed leaks to the media by the attending Congressmen and women were unsurprising. This is how these ladies and gentlemen helped destroy their own UPA-2 coalition government between 2009-2014.

Many of these leaks came with an “angle”, often suggesting that “senior” leaders of the party had “reservations” about inducting Kishor into the party even when Congress President Sonia Gandhi herself was keen to do so.

This compulsive habit of Congress leaders to conduct politics through selective leaks always attributed to “sources” has now come back to bite them. Now that the Congress party has admitted that Kishor has “declined” their “offer”, the Congress party cuts a sorry figure on many counts.

For one, the 10-day-long saga has amounted to the Congress admitting it does not have any vision of its own, or at least the ability to implement the vision.

The only thing that could be worse than being clueless is to publicly admit that you’re clueless.

Projecting weakness

In what must be the worst tweet ever put out by the Congress party, its chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said Tuesday, “Following a presentation & discussions with Sh. Prashant Kishor, Congress President has constituted a [sic] Empowered Action Group 2024 & invited him to join the party as part of the group with defined responsibility. He declined. We appreciate his efforts & suggestion given to party.”

Have you ever heard any organisation issue a statement saying we offered someone a job and they declined? Can you imagine the BJP ever issue a statement saying they invited an individual to join the party and they refused?

The only thing that could be worse than being rejected by someone is to publicly say, “I was rejected. Thank you.”

That one tweet summarises all the Congress party’s problems, not least its inability to understand political communication. In politics you don’t admit weakness but project strength. You don’t do your strategy sessions and recruitment like buying knick-knack in a flea market.

So far, Congress supporters were able to save face and say Prashant Kishor is a job seeker, he wants to make money, and so on. But Surjewala’s tweet makes it clear it was Congress which was wooing him and it was Kishor who declined the offer.

The unelected and unelectable “senior” leaders of the party can no longer plant stories where anonymous “sources” could have said the party refused to hire Kishor because, you know, he wanted to make them win elections for a change.

Surjewala’s tweet — if such a tweet was even needed — could have said they have mutually decided to not work together at this point.

Insult upon injury

Soon after his tweet, Kishor put out his explanation of why he declined the “generous” offer. He tweeted, “…more than me the party needs leadership and collective will to fix the deep rooted structural problems through transformational reforms.”

This tweet adds insult upon injury. It effectively says the party lacks leadership. Some might even interpret it as a polite way of saying the Gandhi family is incompetent.

Collective will? The Congress doesn’t even know what that is. It is perhaps a reference to the unelectable “senior” leaders who keep planting stories about their “reservations” about recruiting someone who, unlike them, has shown he knows something about winning elections.

The endless factionalism and sabotage by Congress leaders makes sure the party does not have the collective will to win. At any point of time, most leaders want the party to fail so that someone else doesn’t get the credit and rewards.

The Congress party is unable to recognise that its problems are deep rooted and structural. A few cosmetic changes here and there won’t help.

Merely recruiting a successful election strategist as a politician won’t make you win elections on its own. Prashant Kishor or anyone for that matter can succeed only if the Congress party has the courage to make itself anew, starting from scratch.

This will need a transformative approach — as opposed to an incremental one. The Congress has been hoping for incremental improvement since 2014 but all it has got is incremental decline.

A transformative approach needs the party to take bold decisions. If they have that courage, they don’t need Prashant Kishor.