Blurry relations between I-Pac and PK worries Congress leaders

Kalyani Shankar

Eyebrows are raised at the news of Poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s I- Pac inking a poll strategy pact with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi TRS) even as he is just about to enter Congress Party.

Kishor has publicly distanced himself from I-Pac, but his presence in Hyderabad on Sunday at the chief minister’s official residence speaks volumes if it is true. His test would be at the time of the Telangana elections next year. The state congress has been fighting the TRS since the united Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014. Since then, the TRS has replaced Congress.

The Congress circles are abuzz with his proposed lateral entry. They are already debating whether he would be an asset or a liability. The old guard feels that the Gandhi family ignores the in-house talent and looks elsewhere while their suggestions were not different from Kishor’s presentation.

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After many poll defeats, restlessness within Congress is at its peak. Since last August, the G- 23 has been demanding a revival of the party and collective leadership. They have been waiting for the official announcement of Kishor’s induction. While the Gandhi family is enthusiastic about bringing in Kishor, most others, including the old guard, have expressed doubts about his commitment to Congress. Also, how successful his strategy would be known when Gujrat and Himachal Pradesh polls take place later this year.

The G-23 is at a disadvantage because it cannot split the party individually or in a group, but they have a nuisance value. After not being consulted on Kishor’s road map for the 2024 polls, they are also upset.

G-23 leaders included former chief ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Veerappa Moily, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, and former Union ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Mukul Wasnik, Milind Deora,  and Renuka Chaudhari.

Kishor will be walking on a razor’s edge as he is a newcomer to the Congress culture. His earlier experiment to help the poll campaign in U.P in 2017 was not very pleasant for both sides. He might resist the G 23 lobby with the support of the Gandhis but not the deep-rooted party system. The old guard has come through the system fighting it – sometimes joining it- and survived for decades. Even Rahul Gandhi has not been able to resist the system. That is why he wants to bring in new faces loyal to him.

Last August, the rebel group had openly expressed their grouse against bringing in an outsider to a high party post when Kishore almost joined it. So far, only the Gandhi family had a lateral entry. Even Indira Gandhi,  Sanjay Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi came through the organization and electoral route. Only Sonia, Rahul, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been lateral entrees.

It is not the first time there has been a rift in the party. Since Independence, there have been about 70 splits. Historically, Indira Gandhi split the Congress in 1969 over differences with the powerful old guard called Syndicate and set up her setup. She was successful because she outmaneuvered the old guard and went on to rule.

Even though Rajiv Gandhi got over 400 seats in 1984, riding high on the sympathy wave, V.P Singh split the party on the Bofors gun deal scam and became the Prime Minister in 1989. In 1994, senior leaders like  N.D.Tiwari, Arjun Singh, and Sheila Dixit set up Tiwari Congress, which merged with Congress later.
In 1998, leaders like Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma, and Tariq Anwar split the party of Sonia’s foreign origin.
Since then, The NCP,  Trinamool Congress, and YSRCP have all come from Congress.

The Gandhis know that none of the rebels is in a position to split the party as they do not have pan-Indian visibility. Most Congressmen will think twice about joining the rebels but joining the BJP is an option.

Secondly, the rebels are looking for an issue, and Kishor’s entry is a good one as it means outsourcing the leadership. But this is not an issue for public sympathy or party support.

Thirdly, another significant issue is Kishor’s demand to be accountable to no one except the three Gandhis. They are also not sure about Kishor’s commitment to Congress. He had worked against Congress when working for the regional leaders like Mamata, Jagan Reddy, and others.

So, the rebels have no other choice than to grin and bear the newcomer and wait for the organizational elections scheduled for August.

The question is will Sonia Gandhi have a rethink about Kishor’s induction when the issue has already gone far ahead? Will Kishor get away with riding two horses? It looks as if Dame Luck is smiling at him.

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