Prashant Kishore Image Credit: Twitter@PrashantKishore

I was the first to break the story in Gulf News that India’s topmost election strategist, Prashant Kishor (PK), is in talks to join India’s grand old political party — the Congress.

The reason for the pat on the back — it is extremely rare to get a giant political scoop and get it dead on right. The trust that Gulf News reposed in me to print my scoop is rare — journalists routinely are second guessed by mainstream papers.

I have no hesitation in saying that we beat every Indian mainstream news medium on the all-important PK story.

Trust issues are bedevilling Kishor’s entry in to the Congress even as he gave a detailed presentation on the 2024 elections to Congress leaders in the presence of the top brass — interim Congress president, Sonia Gandhi and her children — Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Gandhis - Rahul, Sonia, Priyanka
Gandhis - Rahul, Sonia, Priyanka Image Credit: ANI/PTI

PK, as Kishor is universally called, has lost some of his political swagger as the Congress leadership makes him run rings to join the party. Earlier, the Gandhi family was happy to allow him a lot of leeway in his desire to makeover the party. Now that window appears to be shutting.

This time around, the entire outreach was done by a near desperate PK to the Gandhi family as his other political patrons including Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, are disenchanted with him.

Highly placed sources say that PK had a meeting with Amit Shah, Union Home Minister and the BJP’s uber election strategist and that Shah remained unmoved by the PK hard sell.

A wary Congress

Congress leaders are extremely wary of PK because of his track record in working to elect candidate Modi as prime minister of India in 2014. PK came up with projects like “Chai pei charcha”.

Clearly envisaging a prominent role in Team Modi, PK came up against Shah who simply stonewalled him. PK then claimed he had no ideology and proved it by working with leaders like Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Jaganmohan Reddy, Mamata Banerjee and even the Congress — for the disaster that was the Congress campaign for UP in 2017.

Senior congress leaders now point to this record of working with the AAP, TMC and TRS and ask the Gandhi family tough questions about PK being a Trojan horse. Still effusive about Modi in his media interviews, PK seems to be desperate to be a political mover and shaker.

He briefly joined Kumar’s Janata Dal but was thrown out by Kumar within months. As a parting shot, Kumar said that Shah had asked him to take PK in to the party. This troubling recommendation had a huge effect on PK’s credibility and credentials.

Political ambition

Now after nearly burning his bridges with most opposition parties, PK is in a rush to join the Congress. Senior Congress leaders told me that Sonia Gandhi was alarmed at some of PK’s plans and prescriptions to revive the Congress and the outsized role he had envisaged for himself.

The only Gandhi family member enthused about PK’s entry is Priyanka Gandhi, who has kept a line open with him. “A radical surgery may save the patient but, leave him useless for life. Yes, we need a radical makeover but, from a man who worked to decimate us. How do we believe his intentions?” says a very senior Congress leader bitingly.

In his impatience to get on board with the Congress, PK even publicly bad mouthed Rahul Gandhi in a tweet. Gandhi seems prepared to forgive and forget that episode.

“Why should we provide PK a lifeboat as he appears to be drowning in politics after his fallout with Banerjee,” asks a Congress leader. PK has public association with several top opposition leaders, who are adversaries of the Congress at the regional level. Congressmen say that this makes his association untenable for the party.

PK’s ambitions for political offices and his image of a man in a hurry to fulfil his ambitions has given the Congress a pause. PK has been told that he can join the Congress but his overarching plan currently has few takers.

It’s not just the big battle of 2024 that PK will have to handle. The ace strategist will be working for Congress in every state election, starting with Gujarat. So does PK have a strategy to make the Congress win? Currently they are auditioning him.