Do you know what the latest Chai Pe Charcha is? Where is Prashant Kishor? Not that we ever saw him every evening on some news channel bragging about his strategies and policies on how to drub out his rival political party. That would be against the enigma that he has created. He is perceived to be a larger than life, Bollywood kind of savior, the Batman of today’s Indian political Matrix. But after this 2017 debacle, when people ask Kishor’s whereabouts with a slight tone of arrogance or some sort of vindication and sip into their cuppa tea, what they are really asking is the relevance of Prashant Kishor kind of intervention in the Indian Political scenario.
Whether Prashant Kishor kind of strategists hold as much water in Indian politics as they are perceived to?
Whether the political parties, the leaders’ personalities, the ideologies can be overshadowed by the electoral war time strategy? Whether this is just a one off loss for him and we all are simply reading too much into the end of a savvy political campaigning era. So much so, there is news that he is officially going to join the Congress party. If at all that is true, why does he need to officially join a party to make the impact that he could without joining?
Everybody knew that Kishor was the man who was at the helm of affairs. Be it his quite silent functioning in Punjab after a tussle with Captain Amarinder Singh or be it his positioning of Shiela Dixit as a Brahmin face for Uttar Pradesh, or be it his forging the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance to fight Modi and his “saffron brigade”, Prashant Kishor and his name was always around. He was associated with every elementary thing happening in the Congress party in 2016-17.
Let us shape this discussion around Kishor’s performance in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. This is because in Punjab the Congress convincingly won, fighting a force where the BJP was not involved and was facing a serious threat from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to repeat a Delhi (2015) like performance. Also the fact that Rahul Gandhi and Prashant Kishor were not as influential in the campaign run in Punjab as they were in the UP makes it a talking point. To actually face the AAP attack and stand victorious is a feat in itself.
Uttar Pradesh is pertinent for all the obvious reasons. It has got much more to do with the influence of Captain Amarinder Singh in the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) and his clear rejection of the political advice from Prashant Kishor and his proxies. UP is a battleground which sets the agenda for the nation, more importantly because of the number of MPs it sends to the upper house of the Parliament. Apart from this, it was literally the make or break of the future of Modi led BJP in 2019. The media gave it such a colour, make it an all-chips-in kind of gamble for the BJP.
BJP’s failure in UP would have meant outstanding success in 2019 for any face that would beat them. The BJP somehow, barely passed the election test in all the sarcasm available in the universe. It is here, where Prashant Kishor was given a total free hand to pioneer the social engineering like in Bihar 2015 and to reverse the impact on the self-dwindling path of the Congress party. Hence, it is not out of place to discuss dynamics of Uttar Pradesh politics of Kishor and the Congress apathy.
The “grand alliance” in Bihar put the BJP in its place. 178-58, the final score there. Principally opposed parties aligned together with the largest interest of power – to keep the BJP out of power. In 2014, they tried fighting individually against the BJP and the outcome was not even funny. Prashant Kishor was hired by Nitish Kumar. This time to keep the BJP out of power. Nitish Kumar was made to put a presence in the social media. Nitish Kumar was made to tweet. But that is not exactly why Nitish Kumar won. They realized that it is only through the consolidation of each and every individual caste that prevails in Bihar, supplemented with the Muslim that could beat the BJP. It is very simple. BJP banks on the consolidation of Hindu vote. If we think that Nitish Kumar tweeted and that consolidated the castes and creed across Bihar then we will have only ourselves to blame.
If the “grand alliance” was the baby of Prashant Kishor and he successfully mastered the negotiations between the three parties and the candidates that it should put forth, then Prashant Kishor is the force to reckon with. But a campaign manager or a political strategist of one political party can only do so much. Giving one man credit for the peaceful get together and alignment of all the parties and their political interests is nothing but highlighting one’s own lack of understanding of politics. There is only so much that a political strategist or a campaign manager can do.
Uttar Pradesh showed us that through the Amit Shah Style social engineering where the non-Jatav dalits and non-Yadav OBCs consolidated behind the BJP. Also the Brahmin stalwarts and legacies of the Congress floating towards the BJP before the elections added salt to the wound. There was also a hope that the Muslim women might vote in favour of the BJP for their anti-Triple Talaq stand. The “grand alliance” in Uttar Pradesh could have kept the BJP at bay.
It was very evident that somewhere and somehow Prashant Kishor put in a lot of effort to venture the partnership between the Congress and the SP but it failed. Prashant Kishor banked on these two young faces to lead their cadres from the front. Unfortunately, they were just bankrupt by the Modi Mania. The fact that Congress rallied for 100 seats in the UP and it was gladly given by the SP due to its own family feud is good political negotiating from Prashant Kishor’s end. But the result was unfavourable for them because the alliance was not as “grand” as it was hoped for.
If we look back at their rallies and their yatras, SP and Congress were clocking it big time. If that gave an impression to a viewer that SP+Congress alliance is looking promising enough to come to power, then it implied that Prashant Kishor has done his job with perfection. If for a moment, we believe that the BJP was forced to pull out its Indra Astra in the end by calling Modi for 3 day campaign in the last phase, then also it implies that Prashant Kishor has succeeded in his job. But if we also take it that Prashant Kishor was involved in the seats distribution and tickets But his efforts did not translate into electoral success of any kind. Does this mean he failed at his job?
Let us look at the Punjab elections to seek better answers.
Punjab was the first state to get activated in the run up to 2017 elections. It was because the Congress party was facing some internal clashes between Capt Amarinder Singh, the now Chief Minister of Punjab and the then party leaders of the state, Capt Amarinder Singh asserted himself as the undisputed face of the Punjab Congress in the run up to the recent elections. Kishor’s apparently first involvement in Punjab came from the advice to not contest Khandoor Sahib by poll which they gladly accepted.
Later on, Kishor tried to reinstate Jagmeet Brar, a rebel who was ousted from the party by Amarinder Singh himself. Amarinder Singh did not appreciate his dissent and threw Brar from the party only to see Kishor meeting with Brar and getting him back in the party. In a party which is so heavily and traditionally invested in obedience to the hierarchy, coming in direct contravention with the Congress’ face of Punjab meant only thing. Captain Amarinder Singh categorically stating that he is the boss in Punjab and that Kishor should not exceed his brief.
Thereon, Kishor and team quietly, without any controversies handled only the research and logistics of the elections and Kishor shifted his political acumen and strategy implementation to UP. Congress required its share of luck from the BJP+Akali noninvolvement and the AAP collapse due to over confidence and arrogance. Where was Kishor in the whole picture? Not as strategically involved in Punjab as he was in the UP. So does this mean Prashant Kishor is not as good a political strategist as he is a campaign manager?
A political strategist usually comes with years of experience in rank and file of a political party. He knows the people around him, their temperaments, their capabilities, and their characteristic traits. A political strategist is a person who grows from the grass roots of the party and understands its macro to micro approach. A political strategist is a person, if true and honest to his job in the party, can assist and guide the campaign manager on how to extract maximum political mileage from the party during elections. It is because of his or her involvement in the party for so long and a promotion to the post of a political strategist, everybody in the party listens to him or her, because that place has been earned.
On the other hand a campaign manager can inform on what exactly the voters want. Whether the political party can give or offer is something that the political strategist will assess and decide. A campaign manager has a limited job. He has to position an image of the party in the elections to make it the most sought after party. The campaign manager has to create that impression. Therefore, in Punjab, Prashant Kishor was a great campaign manager but in Uttar Pradesh he was not a great political strategist.
A campaign manager can never assume the office and duties of a political strategist. There is a protocol which one adheres and becomes a political strategist of the party. Perhaps, the rumours of Prashant Kishor officially joining the Congress party may hold substance and logic. It will be an attempt to give him the official reins which he was missing this time as a political strategist.