New Delhi: It was Captain Amarinder Singh, former Punjab chief minister and president of the state Congress unit, who brought election strategist Prashant Kishor on board, but a section of his party seems upset over what it perceives as Kishor’s overreach in the run-up to the assembly election and feels he could ruffle feathers in the state unit.
The National Democratic Alliance’s defeat in the 2015 Bihar assembly election, credited in part to a successful campaign steered by Kishor, had encouraged the Congress to hire him to help with the upcoming assembly election in Punjab.
The development comes in the backdrop of Singh’s recent comments in Chandigarh that Kishor has “no business to interfere" in the party’s day-to-day affairs. In an interview published in The Indian Express on Sunday, Singh was asked whether the Congress party was looking to take back expelled leaders Jagmeet Brar and Bir Devinder, which he denied.
When asked further whether he was aware about Kishor meeting the expelled leaders, Singh did not mince words: “Prashant’s business is to strategize. Running the party is my business. Prashant has no business to interfere in this. Taking somebody back or recommending somebody’s expulsion is my job. That’s why I say he does not understand the intricacies of Punjab politics."
In February, Singh had announced that Kishor is joining to plan the Congress’s campaign in the state. The election is due early next year and the Congress is looking to tap into the expertise of Kishor, who worked for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s campaign last year and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha campaign in 2014.
The Congress is looking to wrest power in Punjab after a gap of one decade from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine.
“It is more an over-enthusiasm on his (Kishor) part that he got in touch with expelled leaders. Some established leaders feel that this could be an overreach of the brief given to him. The whole thing about getting in touch with dissident leaders is sticky because it ends up becoming difficult for us to explain such a move. It will not trigger anything worrisome, but certain undercurrents cannot be denied," a Punjab Congress leader said, requesting anonymity.
Singh was abroad for nearly a month in a bid to garner support among non-resident Indians ahead of the election.
Meanwhile, according to leaders aware of the developments, Kishor and his team have been active on the new assignment.
Some party leaders are of the opinion that an outsider or a political strategist is best suited to shake things up.
According to another senior party leader from the state, who did not want to be identified, Kishor’s attempt to reach out to dissident leaders could eventually help the party in garnering more support.
Officially, the party maintains that there is a clear distinction between Kishor’s work and organizational developments within the party.
“We have always maintained that he is an election strategist and has a good track record of successfully handling campaigns. He is there to suggest highlights of the campaign as well as that of the manifesto. He will have no role in organizational matters nor will he have any role in ticket distribution," said Shakeel Ahmad, the party general secretary in charge of Punjab.
Ahmad added that the party did not discuss anything with Kishor before its Saturday overhaul of the state executive committee and office-bearers.
On Monday, Ahmad held a media briefing where he clarified that there was “no communication gap" between Singh and Kishor. Kishor’s role is that of an adviser and strategist, he said.
Punjab is not the only state where Kishor is working to revive the Congress’s electoral fortunes. The other state where he is overseeing the party’s election campaign is Uttar Pradesh.
“The Congress party’s fortunes in this election will depend on how much it can hold its flock together and bring its rebel leaders on board. The common masses knows the leader and state-level leaders feel that with Kishor being close to the top brass, organizational decisions could get affected and so it makes them upset," said Ghanshyam Dev, a Punjab-based political analyst and head of the department of political science at DAV College, Chandigarh.
“Kishor is an election strategist and as long as there is a clear distinction between that and the party’s internal organizational decisions, it will help the Congress party. Anything else is set to ruffle some feathers here and there," he added.