Will the radical PK formula work for the Congress in India?
As I write this column, the Indian National Congress is about to induct a total outsider into its fold in a desperate attempt to overhaul the party.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is highly likely to join Congress with Sonia Gandhi’s blessing, despite voices not entirely trusting him. Kishor gave Congress a detailed roadmap for its recovery, which it began working on a year ago.
This is a crucial point for Congress, which is struggling to find its bearings after a series of electoral defeats since 2014. Faced with a very clear leadership crisis, and a crisis of credibility with voters, the great old Indian party is taking a big risk. and a bet. Will it work?
No one knows, but the fact is that nothing else is working for Congress right now, so taking a chance on Kishor is probably a risk worth taking.
Who is the man exactly?
Why is PK – as it’s called – generating so much buzz? Simply because he was the man behind Narendra Modi’s phenomenal campaign in 2014. He went on to successfully manage campaigns across India – for JD-U in Bihar, Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, AAP in Delhi, the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Mamata Banerjee in Bengal.
He also had his share of failures, notably in the Congress and SP UP campaign in 2017.
This is both a plus and a minus for Kishor. The fact that he has worked with so many political parties, especially those that oppose Congress, has tired many members of Congress.
talk to me about NDTV Last week, top Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who is part of a committee Sonia Gandhi formed to study Kishor’s proposals for Congress, said that “his trip (from PK) was one party to another. This kind of political commitment or ideological commitment was therefore not obvious. But now that he’s come up with some concrete suggestions and the presentation he’s made, yeah, it’s pretty good.”
Digvijay Singh’s comments are significant as he was one of the leaders who was not in favor of being given a position in the PK for fear it would rattle too many feathers in the party. It is understood however that the Gandhis were keen to try something drastic.
A non-Gandhi at the helm
The KP’s draft plan presented last year called for having Sonia Gandhi as party president and a non-Gandhi as incumbent president, with Rahul Gandhi heading the congressional parliamentary council. It is not yet clear if this is part of his final presentation to the party and to what extent Congress would be willing to cede space to a non-Gandhi.
But his other suggestions are more workable, including an overhaul of the party’s communications strategy, destroying the sense of entitlement and sycophancy, rebuilding from the ground up – a reincarnation of Congress as he puts it. He suggested that Congress focus on 370 to 400 parliamentary seats where it can fight the polls alone and the rest in alliance with other political parties.
Figures compiled by Ashoka University’s Trivedi Center for Political Data show that Congress recorded an 82% strike rate in the 1984 general election, winning 404 of the 491 seats it contested. But since then, the great old Indian party has been in decline. He never hit the 50% strike rate again.
In 2004, when Congress formed a government with coalition partners, their strike rate was 35%
This figure rose to 47% in 2009 when Dr Manmohan Singh won a second term. But in the Modi wave of 2014, this was reduced to just 9%.
The big question is how open Congress will be to sweeping change. The party is rooted with old-fashioned politicians who don’t like outsiders telling them what to do.
For PK, there will be strong headwinds, and he knows it.