Wary Of PK’s Entry, Congress Dissenters Planning To Checkmate Poll Strategist

The G-23, who met at the residence of former Union minister Kapil Sibal recently, fear losing their prominence if an outsider gains importance in the party.

The G-23 or the group of senior Congress dissenters, who had shot to fame last year, are back in the news.

The dissenters, who had written a letter to party interim chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020, urging her to appoint a full-time and visible party president and hold elections for all party posts, are now miffed over the prospect of poll strategist Prashant Kishor joining the Congress.

Actually, the proposal to join the grand old party and help it turn around ahead of the 2024 national elections had come from Kishor himself.

The high command, which liked the idea, is merely responding to the suggestion and exploring ways to go about it.

After ensuring the victory of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in the April assembly polls, Kishor, who has an impressive track record, was looking for a new and bigger role in national politics.

As he had worked with the Congress earlier during the 2017 Punjab and Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, Kishor thought that joining the grand old party, reviving it nationally and playing the role of an opposition unity builder would be a challenge worth undertaking.

In a normal course, the main opposition party hiring a professional election manager would have hardly made any waves but Kishor’s proposed entry in the grand old party has already courted controversy.


Prashant Kishor in Congress Press conference during UP campaign in 2017.


While the Gandhis appear to be favorably inclined towards Kishor’s proposal, the G-23 doubt his move and have, therefore, started a whisper campaign against the poll strategist.

The dissenters hope to kill two birds with one stone.

On one hand, the hush campaign aims to build pressure on the high command to rethink Kishor’s proposal. On the other hand, the plan could block the poll strategist’s chances of becoming big in the party, in case the induction gets a go ahead.

The G-23, who met at the residence of former Union minister Kapil Sibal recently, fear losing their prominence if an outsider gains importance in the party system and begins issuing directives to established leaders.

A close look at the past events shows that if the Congress veterans suffer from this kind of anxiety, part of the blame goes to Kishor himself.

Over the past several years, Kishor has worked with several top political leaders including PM Modi, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy and DMK chief MK Stalin.


Prashant Kishor with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.


A common factor during all of these stints as their poll manager was that he was able to quickly win their confidence.

In the process, Kishor gained proximity to these leaders, which, in turn made the respective party’s rank and file jealous and insecure at the same time.

Kishor’s style of functioning seems to have become a personality trait which probably prompted him to suggest to the Congress high command that he be given the role of a top adviser.

Not only the post, Kishor wants a free-wheeling area of operation as a special adviser and expects to be given an authority to issue orders, which should go down the line without questioning.

In effect, this means a slot next to party chief Sonia Gandhi, surpassing over a dozen general secretaries, who reached their positions after years of hard work.

The poll strategist believes the grand old party suffers from an age-old system and fighting the 2024 battle may not be possible without taking tough and quick decisions, which may require bypassing the conventional arrangements.

The dissenters think this corporate-style decision making would be akin to driving a high-speed train on tracks that have not been upgraded and could result in an accident, something the party can ill-afford at this juncture.

The dissenters also have apprehensions that key party decisions being outsourced to a professional from outside might leave the organization vulnerable to undesirable influences.


The Group of 23 Congress leaders in Jammu.(Credit- PTI)


Further, the dissenters know very well that the Congress has its own style of working as a 136 years old party and Kishor may not gel with it.

G-23 view

The members of G-23 are all seasoned politicians and have served long stints in the grand old party but they had been feeling marginalized over the past years, especially since the 2019 national elections in which the Congress failed to dislodge the Modi government.

Later, the members had explained that the purpose of their letter was not to question Sonia Gandhi’s leadership but to push reforms in the party and prepare it for the future challenges.

In a way, the concern seemed genuine as the party had suffered a string of electoral reverses since losing power at the Centre in 2014.

The only bright spots were Punjab in 2017 and Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018 where the party came to power and to some extent Maharashtra and Jharkhand where the party shared power with the regional parties.

However, for some Gandhi family loyalists, the dissent letter was a sign of rebellion and led to further isolation of the G-23 members within the party.

Though Sonia Gandhi’s consensual style of leadership saw many of the G-23 members getting actively involved in party affairs, the grouping did not entirely fade away.

After former party chief Rahul Gandhi tried to unite the opposition parties during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the G-23 initiated a separate process, minus the Gandhis, to achieve the same objective.

Sonia Gandhi responded to this event by convening a significant online conclave of opposition leaders where she clearly set the 2024 goal before the heads of various parties and urged them to rise above their compulsions.


Screengrab from Sonia Gandhi’s virtual meeting with opposition leaders.


The G-23 then came up with the PK issue, which has been debated within the party circles since July, and discussed the pros and cons of the proposed induction in the presence of veterans like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Nod for PK

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are okay with Prashant Kishor as they have worked with him in 2017 while the G-23 want the proposal to be debated in the Congress Working Committee.

However, the final clearance for the poll manager’s induction would come from party chief Sonia Gandhi, who has asked her trusted aides AK Antony and Ambika Soni to submit a report on the matter.

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