NEW DELHI: Is political strategist Prashant Kishor with his “350 employees” replacing the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee? It seems so to the UP Congress leaders who are becoming increasingly resentful of Kishor and his team as they go about “consulting” the old party, from the block to the state.

For many, who should matter to the Congress leadership in UP, Kishor represents a culture that they feel is alien to the party. For instance, he sits and delivers his ‘bhashan’ while the state leaders stand and give their views. In a state where every word has a political interpretation, Kishor’s “I” carries particular significance when he attaches it to the selection of candidates, and the determination of strategy. Where is the UPCC? This is the primary question that the Congress members are asking, with many preparing to meet party president Sonia Gandhi to raise their apprehensions.

For now Kishor certainly has the run of the field, dominating UPCC president Nirmal Khatri and AICC general secretary and UP in charge Madhusudan Mistry. He says that he will evolve final strategy for the Assembly elections in consultation with them, but then as a Congress leader asked, why the over use of the word “I”? Kishor says he will decide on the candidates, he will decide on the strategy, he will decide on the campaign, so what is the UPCC and the Congress leaders there for, is the question reflecting the current level of resentment.

Kishor is based currently---for the initial period of the consultations--in Lucknow. His 350 employees, at least that is the figure given out by Congress members in the state, fan across UP to bring back the results of their ‘conversations’ with Congress party members to him. Kishor follows up on this with “brainstorming” visits to say Aligarh, recently, where he identifies the demography of the district and constituencies, the reasons why the Congress lost, and the issues that need to be raised locally and at the state level to help revive the party.

Kishor is keen to get Priyanka Vadra into the campaign. As a Congress senior has said, “if that is all he has been able to come up with, we could have told him without his even coming here. She is charismatic, she will bring a new enthusiasm to the campaign, so then what is the need for him at all.” A sentiment that is being attributed to Kishor now, has been the demand of workers from UP before every election, Assembly or Lok Sabha. It is the cry of a floundering party that hopes that the Priyanka charm will captivate the voters in the absence of a policy, or even a presence on the ground.

AICC spokesperson Vivek Bansal was recently quoted in the media as saying, "The team had approached us to interact with all the Congress leaders and members - they took our feedback on what can be done this time round in 2017 polls. It was helpful for all of us to break down the general discussion into specific one - what people want and where the party went wrong in the past. It has been out of power for so long. But it has been an unequal match as the regional players focused on state level polls well, whereas a national party could not give that much attention. They are here in Aligarh for few days, and will meet locals, this will give them a comprehensive picture of the issues here."

Kishor seems to have set an extraordinary task for himself. Far more wideranging in a sense than the Lok Sabha polls where his focus was more on the advertising strategy and blitz and in Bihar where given the political sagacity of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav he was barely visible. In UP where the Congress has been unable to pick up the threads, and certainly not for want of trying, Kishor’s role seems to have expanded across:

1. Identification of issues for the poll manifesto;

2. Campaign strategy;

3. Selection of candidates for the Assembly elections;

4. Suggestions on key campaigners for the party. As a Congress legislator said, “he wants Nitish Kumar as CM, and Rahul Gandhi as CM.”

5. Suggestion on the candidate for PCC chief. This incidentally is being looked at seriously as a more immediate step with Kishor’s inputs including Rahul Gandhi. The latter, however, is looking at former Governor and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit who is from UP, and old friend and ‘Raja’ of Amethi Sanjay Singh.

The UP Congress is in tatters with their being almost as many factions as there are leaders. Despite some effort Rahul Gandhi has failed to get the party back together, with a sense of de-motivation all pervasive in the state unit. The Congress workers of course, are enthusiastic about the attention being showered on them, and happy that their views are being solicited for a change. But whether this is little more than an initiation course for Kishor and his team remains to be seen.

Interestingly all kinds of figures are being reeled out by Congress leaders about the fee that Kishor is charging for his services. “What a waste of money” seems to be currently the emerging consensus, “ the same could have been paid to the candidates instead.”

But then the UP Congress has reduced itself to a cribbing, carping party that does not take itself seriously. The real issue is the time factor, and whether Kishor and his team will be able to assist the Congress to stand up in UP. Only eight months are left to the polls, and the exercise for the Congress party seems to have just begun.