It wasn't Telangana. It wasn't ideology. Political strategist Prashant Kishor's latest round of talks with the Congress on changing the 137-year-old party's decrepit fortunes fell through on account of the most obvious of stalemates, sources have told NDTV.
While the 45-year-old wanted a free hand to bring in sweeping changes and play the role of a disruptor, the Congress leadership ultimately found itself wary of a complete overhaul, preferring incremental changes instead, sources in the Congress said.
However, unlike last year when similar talks hit a wall, this time, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi kept senior party leaders in the loop, acted on their advice and has decided to hold them accountable for losses and victories in future elections, they added.
They firmly rejected suggestions that a deal fizzled because of Prashant Kishor's association with other parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi led by Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao or "KCR" which signed up his political consultancy group I-PAC just two days ago for next year's elections.
Neither was his past of helping everyone from the BJP to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee win elections a sticking point, a leader said.
"The difference was on how to execute the revival. PK wanted to be a disruptor. The party wanted incremental changes," he said.
The Congress was reluctant to give its reins to an outsider from the get-go and Prashant Kishor was hesitant about his hands being tied since he had seen the results of that in the party's disastrous 2017 Uttar Pradesh election campaign, sources said.
After several rounds of talks, presentations, deliberations between the two sides and any-moment-now signals sent to the media, the announcement on Tuesday of them going their own ways was mutual and there was no acrimony, sources said.
"There was a meeting between Prashant Kishor and the leadership preceding the announcement and the tweets where it was mutually agreed that an agreement could not be reached," one leader said, requesting not to be named.
It was only then that Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and Prashant Kishor made the formal announcements on Twitter, carefully avoiding any harsh words.
Following a presentation & discussions with Sh. Prashant Kishor, Congress President has constituted a Empowered Action Group 2024 & invited him to join the party as part of the group with defined responsibility. He declined. We appreciate his efforts & suggestion given to party.— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) April 26, 2022
I declined the generous offer of #congress to join the party as part of the EAG & take responsibility for the elections.— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) April 26, 2022
In my humble opinion, more than me the party needs leadership and collective will to fix the deep rooted structural problems through transformational reforms.
On the surface, the Congress offered Prashant Kishor what it was prepared to offer - just another seat on the discussion table now christened the "Empowered Action Group". An offer that was promptly but politely declined by Mr Kishor.
The developments echo the last year's round of failed talks between the two sides, when, according to Mr Kishor himself, they failed to "take a leap of faith".
"For others, it looks natural that Prashant Kishor and Congress should come and work together. But both sides have to take a leap of faith to work together. That did not happen with the Congress," he told NDTV in January, reaffirming what Congress's Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also said.
"On my side, I had a bad experience working with them on UP (2017 elections). And hence I was very sceptical. I did not want to get in having my hands tied... the Congress leadership, because of my background, they are not wrong in being sceptical about whether I will be 100 per cent loyal to them," Mr Kishor had said, adding that he was convinced the Congress needs a "revamp" to defeat the BJP.