Former Punjab chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, now leading Punjab Congress for the Assembly election to be held early 2017, and the well-known political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is guiding the party's fortune, are both sitting on a hat-trick. The dice has been rolled for only one of them to score the critical hat-trick.
For Prashant, who is credited with the victory of Narendra Modi in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and that of Nitish Kumar in Bihar 2015 Assembly elections, another victory in Punjab would notch up a hat-trick of success. Amarinder, on the other hand, had led Congress to two successive defeats and another defeat would mean a dubious hat-trick.
|Prashant Kishor has realised that managing Congress is a different ballgame than managing Nitish Kumar.|
Amarinder was so enamoured with the skills of Prashant that not only did he rope him in for Punjab elections but also convinced Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to entrust him with the responsibility in the critical Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections due in 2017. Prashant is believed to have already started strategising for Uttar Pradesh.
Prashant has also put in place a plan of action for Punjab Congress and has initiated programmes like "Coffee with Captain" and "Punjab da Captain" to drum up support for the party. He and his team have been conducting a constituency-wise survey and have planned a detailed strategy to plot a much-needed victory for Congress.
However, here lies the rub: Cracks are already visible with Amarinder not inclined to blindly follow the diktat of Prashant and his team. The ace strategist and his team too appear to have realised that managing Congress is a different ball game than managing the all-powerful Modi and Nitish-Lalu combine.
A major point of disagreement between Amarinder and Prashant recently was the decision of the former maharaja to embark on a month-long tour of North America and Canada purportedly to woo Non Resident Indians (NRIs). Amarinder, and indeed top leaders of all major political parties in Punjab, have been undertaking such tours even in the past, although, the impact of such visits is anybody's guess.
Political leaders think that even if a few NRIs participate in actual polling, they exercise a fair degree of influence on the voters from their villages. This is mainly because they had either helped other villagers immigrate or invested in the village.
The consensus, however, is that the NRIs are useful for funding the election campaign. In return, NRIs get a kick out of the clout they might gain by being seen close to top political leaders.
Prashant Kishor's team seems to think otherwise. Though neither Prashant nor his team members have said it on record, it is a well-known fact in Punjab that they are totally opposed to wooing NRIs. They think that their support doesn't mean much and the leaders go abroad only to have a good time.
They believe that the support of NRIs is grossly hyped. "If it was true, why had Modi not gone abroad to seek support of Gujarati NRIs, or Kerala politicians gone to the UAE to woo NRIs from that state," pointed out a member of Prashant's team on condition of anonymity.
The absence of the "face" of Congress' in Punjab for such a long time was quite a setback for the planned campaign during the period. It is believed that Prashant insisted that Amarinder curtail the visit and he finally agreed to cut it from four to three weeks. Prashant's team was still not happy, but they appear to have reconciled.
Another instance of difference of opinion and approach between the two came when Prashant, on his own, met two senior Congress leaders who had been expelled from the party recently for anti-party activities, and for openly criticising Amarinder.
The two leaders, former MP Jagmeet Brar, and former deputy speaker of Vidhan Sabha Bir Devinder Singh had often been taking on Amarinder Singh. After talking to the party high command, Captain had recently expelled both from the party. While Amarinder was abroad, Prashant attempted to mend fences with the two and sought to bring them back into the party fold in his attempt at reconciliation with the dissidents.
Amarinder reacted sharply to this and declared that there was no way the two leaders can be taken back into the Congress. He also criticised Prashant for meeting the two without taking him into confidence. Later, when his anger was reported by a section of media, he tweeted the there were "no differences" between him and Kishor, virtually admitting to the differences.
Amarinder also spoke to the party high command regarding the matter. This was evident when Congress general secretary in charge for Punjab, Shakeel Ahmed said that Prashant had "no role in organisational matters and will have no role in distribution of tickets".
There are speculations that Prashant was behind the jumbo list of office-bearers recently announced by the state Congress chief. The office-bearers include a record 36 vice-presidents and 96 general secretaries in the 266 member state executive of the party. Obviously the idea was to please everyone but the moot point is whether in this attempt they may have pleased none.
The relationship between Amarinder and Prashant is on the edge and they will have to make a Herculean effort to sail together till the Assembly elections. The prestige and honour of both of them is at stake in the Punjab elections and it remains to be seen as to who scores the hat-trick.