Congress should consider Prashant Kishor’s suggestions

The observations and recommendations of Prashant Kishor (PK) are available on 85 slides circulating on social media. There are some comments that what is circulating is an early draft, but even if it is, it contains much of what has been reported as its key content. So, even if the Congress does not have PK, it does have what he wants the party to do. The question of what and how much of his observations the party is ready to accept will become clear at the three-day chintan shivir that has been tentatively scheduled for mid-May. Therefore, even as PK decides his destiny lies outside the party, “PK Thought” is very much out in the open. I think we need to distinguish the man from his thinking.

It is certainly unusual for consultants to wish to become executives. I doubt that McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group or Ernst & Young have ever suggested that they get co-opted to the board to ensure that their recommendations are carried out. That is for the company who hired them to make up their minds. I suspect that some PK recommendations will eventually be accepted and some not; Sometimes, the accepted recommendations would be those that really matter; Sometimes, it is only the fringe suggestions that would find acceptance. That is in the nature of the consulting game. And PK was only in the consulting game till the Congress turned to him. He did his best — and surely what he has turned out is PK at his best. But, as is par for the course, those whom he was advising sought time to digest what he himself might have found self-evident. But parties do not exist for consultants. It is normally the other way round.

As a member of G-23, I find many of his recommendations as having earlier been proposed by the group. For example, G-23’s call for a return to the Congress constitution (Article XXV and rules made thereunder), which provides for elections to the top three organs of the party — the Congress Working Committee, Congress Parliamentary Board and Central Election Committee. These are not PK inventions — they are woven into the warp and woof of the hoary Congress constitution.

Also, PK has brushed aside all nonsense of running the Congress without the Gandhis. He has suggested alternative scenarios of the role the Gandhis may play but in each of them, he has ensured that the Gandhi triumvirate is accommodated in the highest positions. This will displease the armies of Gandhi-baiters but will resonate with the Congress rank-and-file as the family is built into their DNA. Among those whose DNA is not so constructed are to be found the defectors and potential defectors, but for those who do not abandon ship even at this critical juncture, there is the deep and abiding conviction that it is the Gandhis who together constitute the glue, or the bonding adhesive, that keeps the party together and gives it an all-India profile. They are, of course, aware of the dire straits in which the Congress finds itself at the present but are each persuaded that our condition would be even worse but for the pervasive presence of the mother and the siblings in the party leadership. Recognition of this is one major merit of the PK proposals.

The other major merit is that his proposals open the doors for elected leaders to occupy key positions from which to guide the party out of the shoals. That is what G-23 mean by “collective leadership”. Instead of a group of favorites tituting a non-parent coterie around the leader, PK’s proposals give various alternatives that would ensure the presence of elected, therefore, “representative” and “responsible” voices in the deliberations of the key policy and organizational bodies of the Congress. (These two phrases are not PK’s but Rajiv Gandhi’s in the context of Panchayati Raj).

To my mind, the most persuasive of these is the proposal that Priyanka Vadra be made the general secretary in charge of coordination. While this may cause some heartburn to the current and any aspiring general secretary (organisation), I would reckon hard decisions emanating from Priyanka after due consideration and debate on controversial issues would carry wider sanction within the party than from other sources. This is essential to keep the party together.

The crux of my argument is that PK has given the party a great deal of hard data and many suggestions on which to collectively reflect. Those points remain on the table, with it being open to wiser heads to give their own presentations. There is nothing “take-it-or-leave it” about PK’s proposals — even if the man’s personality and personal attitudes give the impression of a know-it-all who would be rebuffed if anything were changed. However, by suggesting alternative scenarios at every turning, the proposals, in themselves, leave it to the party to pick the preferred route or even to explore yet other alternatives. What is important is not each particular but preserving the integrity of the perceptions and predictions that inform the PK narrative. They are less rigid and self-assured than the proposer might be personally.

He would, of course, have helped if PK had been available to gently guide the deliberations, but he reportedly put down several conditions that the party, and especially those who felt their present perch threatened, understandably found unacceptable. But the empowered group already constituted would have every opportunity of deliberating on the minutiae of the PK proposals and even inviting into consideration those who have fundamental objectives or basic choices or amendments to suggest. Ideally, the report of the empowered committee could be made available at the chintan shivir in Udaipur just a few weeks from now — and thus we could move to a consensus within the party on the way forward. Independent (and, even more, biased) observers (and, perhaps, PK himself) might well pick holes in the consensus that emerges but, at the end of the day, it is Congressmen and women who will determine the fate of the Congress. No one has a greater vested interest in their future than members of the Congress.

The writer is a former Union minister

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