After weeks of conferences which supposedly concerned marathon shows, poll-strategist Prashant Kishor has refused to affix the Congress. In doing so, Kishor additionally hinted that the Congress’s issues require a radical overhaul from inside. “I declined the beneficiant supply of #congress to affix the social gathering as a part of the EAG & take duty for the elections. In my humble opinion, greater than me the social gathering wants management and collective will to repair the deep rooted structural issues via transformational reforms”, Kishor stated on the microblogging platform Twitter.
HT reported that the deal fell via over 4 calls for that Kishor made and weren’t acceptable to the social gathering. That he would solely report back to social gathering president Sonia Gandhi; his demand to be used of knowledge within the selection of candidates, which successfully meant a free hand; his view on alliances with regional events; and his want to give attention to the parliamentary elections in 2024, not the state elections this yr or subsequent.
Had Kishor’s calls for been accepted, would he have succeeded in reviving the fortunes of the Congress social gathering? An excellent larger query to ask is can a advisor revive the Congress social gathering in any respect?
Elections, like different battles, are received or misplaced on a mixture of technique and ways. The previous revolves across the core politics or ideology of a celebration and the latter can embody elevating some concern or making some alliance for the elections or specializing in one specific neighborhood in candidate choice. The opposite essential enter in elections, like different battles, is the position of real-time intelligence.
What does a advisor like Kishor deliver to the desk on these fronts?
It is very important observe that barring the 2014 Lok Sabha marketing campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Social gathering (BJP), all of Kishor’s electoral engagements have been on the state degree. Aside from the Congress campaigns within the 2017 Punjab elections, Kishor has solely labored with regional events on the state degree, the place the management and choice making authority is concentrated with one individual.
Not less than within the medium time period, most of India’s regional events wouldn’t have a core politics which matches past capturing energy. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), for instance, was part of the primary Nationwide Democratic Alliance (NDA) authorities, grew to become part of the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and is now towards each the BJP and the Congress. Lower than two years after successful Bihar with the assistance of Kishor and his staff, the Janata Dal (United) broke ranks with its pre-poll ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar and went again to its outdated ally, the BJP.
The Congress doesn’t have this luxurious, even when it desires to apply such opportunism. It should oppose the BJP on a constant foundation to remain related. So there may be little a advisor can supply right here.
One space the place Kishor brings helpful and maybe essential knowledge to the desk is on the query of real-time intelligence. As a result of most regional events are personality-based and their organisational buildings are pushed extra by sycophancy than democracy, it is rather tough for the management (or the supreme chief typically) to concentrate on the precise sentiment on the bottom, not simply vis-à-vis candidates but in addition concerning points. By deploying a technocratic-managerial mannequin the place info collectors are freed from vested pursuits or the place suggestions may be collected by eliminating social gathering intermediaries, Kishor has been serving to events get crucial info that their very own equipment wouldn’t have been capable of get. In some instances, such info can be utilized to iron out variations in alliances as properly. Projecting Nitish Kumar because the chief minister’s face within the 2015 Bihar marketing campaign, lest the RJD’s previous baggage makes voters apprehensive, was one such instance.
The place does all this slot in with the duty of reviving the Congress?
On the degree of the states, the Congress’s political problem may be labeled into three varieties — states the place it’s the direct challenger to the BJP (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam), states the place it’s in an alliance with different main regional events and challenges the BJP or its allies (Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and many others.) and states the place it isn’t in an alliance with dominant regional events and never even thought of a critical challenger to the BJP (Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi and many others).
It needs to be apparent that any nationwide technique which the Congress designs should account for these three broad kinds of state-wise challenges.
The Congress wants all the assistance it may get to win direct contest states towards the BJP. This contains settling the query of management (it price the Congress its authorities in Madhya Pradesh) or candidate choice (the factionalism between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot was greater than apparent within the ticket distribution within the 2018 Rajasthan elections and the Congress appears to be having factional issues in Chhattisgarh as properly).
These examples make it clear that whereas it is going to be helpful for the social gathering to have some exterior goal intelligence on issues reminiscent of candidate choice or management face, the duty of implementing these choices lies squarely on the shoulders of the nationwide management. On this rely, Kishor’s calls for for single level reporting and adherence to his suggestions are justified in a means. A advisor can’t be held accountable when his options are usually not carried out within the first place.
Nevertheless, this isn’t all. Most states which can go to polls earlier than the 2024 elections (Gujrat and Himachal in 2022 and Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in 2023) are beneath the primary class. What’s fascinating is the truth that the Congress gave the BJP a giant scare within the 2017 Gujarat elections and managed to win Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in 2018 with none assist from a advisor like Kishor. Nevertheless, its 2019 Lok Sabha efficiency in these states was a lot worse than its meeting efficiency. This speaks extra in regards to the lack of capability or attraction of the nationwide management of the Congress than the organisational prowess of its state items.
Can a strategist like Kishor repair this drawback?
Three questions are related right here.
The Congress’s perspective in the direction of the BJP’s Hindutva politics, the necessity for an goal evaluation of the explanations for Congress’s long-term decline and the query of whether or not the nationwide management and the regional management are on the identical web page concerning these two points.
On the primary query, the Congress has been displaying a break up persona dysfunction of kinds. Throughout elections, its leaders together with the Gandhis bask in optics reminiscent of temple visits, which is supposed to attraction to the Hindu vote base. The Congress has probably not attacked the BJP on core Hindutva points reminiscent of Ram Temple, abrogation of Article 370 and the criminalisation of Triple Talaq. However the management, particularly Rahul Gandhi is extraordinarily shrill in his normal rhetoric towards the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. As is apparent, these methods are mutually contradictory because the second permits the BJP to proceed to model the Congress as anti-Hindu and undoes any potential profit from the primary.
Allow us to come to the second query. The primary structural headwinds to the Congress didn’t come from the forces of Hindutva. Excluding the Left in Kerala (it noticed the formation of the primary anti-Congress authorities in 1957) and later Bengal, it principally got here from regional political formations which both rallied the Different Backward Lessons (OBCs) or regional satisfaction sentiment towards the Congress which was each a celebration of higher castes and the nationwide hegemon. The current-day Congress appears to have uncritically accepted each these streams of politics. Any worth judgment however, this has additionally meant that the social gathering has misplaced traction amongst sections reminiscent of higher castes and its cultural attraction on nationalism within the Hindi belt. The Congress’s loss on this entrance has been the BJP’s acquire. A helpful counterfactual to ask is what would have been the outcomes if the Congress fought the Uttar Pradesh elections from a purely upper-caste plank relatively than a women-centric marketing campaign? The thought may sound grossly politically incorrect to wokes, however realpolitik usually goes past the realm of the politically right.
No advisor might help the Congress resolve on what are existential questions for its politics. This must be a part of the advisor’s unique transient.
The third query, specifically whether or not there may be political synergy between the Congress’s prime management (largely the Gandhi household) and others on what course it ought to tackle the primary two questions, is crucial.
Rahul Gandhi himself has given indications (he wrote a letter after the 2019 debacle of the Congress) that the Congress rank and file usually betrays him on ideological points. If the highest management and the remainder of the organisational management are usually not on the identical web page, it doesn’t matter what the choice, it should by no means be carried out. On this rely, one of the best lesson the Gandhis can take is, ironical as it could sound, from throughout the household. Indira Gandhi led a break up within the Congress social gathering to steer it in a left-ward course (and likewise seize energy) despite the fact that she didn’t have a majority within the social gathering organisation. The Congress (I) ultimately triumphed over the outdated boys’ membership which is sometimes called the syndicate.
Each the Gandhis and the dissidents (such because the G-23) have been avoiding a confrontation on the organisational concern. Maybe, the previous take into account themselves indispensable (however don’t need to really create a precipitation round this query) and the latter wouldn’t have a keen challenger. This has not helped, as a result of neither aspect is satisfied by the explanations given by the opposite aspect for the tailspin India’s grand outdated social gathering at present finds itself in and retains blaming the opposite camp.
The fortunes of the Congress social gathering will finally be selected the way it offers with these three questions. And it may begin partaking with the primary two questions solely after the third query has been settled. So-called makes an attempt to revive the social gathering by creating empowered committees such because the one Kishor was anticipated to take part in, with out coping with these structural questions, are simply delusions that are finest captured by changing the world convention with committee in a 1922 poem known as Convention Loopy written the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The concluding line of the poem is price reproducing right here.
Oh, for only one extra decisive convention,
the abolishment of all conferences!
Each Friday, HT’s information and political financial system editor, Roshan Kishore, combines his dedication to information and fervour for qualitative evaluation in a column for HT Premium, Phrases of Commerce. With a give attention to one large quantity and one large concern, he’ll go behind the headlines to ask a query and tackle political financial system points and social puzzles going through modern India.
The views expressed are private