"This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests," US Congressman William Clay had famously said which is now oft quoted to cite the harsh, rugged nature of realpolitik that has become the mainstay of all political arrangement in India.
Sans any ideology, belief or any political philosophy, poll strategist Prashant Kishor seemed to have imbibed the aforesaid maxim after he agreed to work for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress, for the 2021 Assembly polls in Bengal where the embattled chief minister faces a tough contest post the 2019 saffron surge in the eastern state.
For Kishor though, this is not something new! After he rose to fame in 2012 helping then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to ride back to power and thereafter micro-managing Modi’s campaign in the run-up to general elections to Lok Sabha in 2014, the UN-returned former public health expert has had a tryst with a series of political parties including the Congress and YSRCP, besides being formally inducted into the JD(U) fold as a vice-president at Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s behest. His dalliance can only be matched by Ram Vilas Paswan, who has been part of every coalition at the Centre since 1996 and Mayawati, who, like Kishor, never had any qualms joining hands with disparate entities like BJP and SP only to get a shot at power.
However, despite hogging the limelight and grabbing the headlines, Kishor's career has been checkered. In fact, Kishor found it hard to get going when the going got tough. A careful analysis of the IPAC founder’s career graph shows that he sailed smoothly whenever he rode on the anti-incumbency and 'wave' bandwagon. Be it in 2014, when there was a huge disgruntlement against the then ruling UPA-II government at the Centre besides a Modi 'wave', or against TDP in the recently-concluded Assembly polls in Andhra, Kishor’s campaign and strategies were only a force multiplier.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, when he was tasked to revive a moribund Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Kishor failed miserably. In Bihar, the alliance between the JD(U) and RJD routed the BJP as the caste arithmetic overrode every other parameter. In Punjab, where Congress came back to power after a decade in 2016, Kishor and his team’s involvement was only restricted to advisory role on handling the media and using social media to spread the message. The rest of the campaign was handled by Amarinder Singh himself.
A close analysis of his statements in January where Kishor predicted an NDA government at the Centre as opposed to a formation where BJP has comfortable majority and a close contest in Andhra Pradesh, raises serious doubts on his assessment as it fell way short of the actual result. It's an ominous sign for someone who claims to feel the pulse of the people. While the BJP not only crossed the halfway mark on its own, the saffron party increased its seat tally to over 300 as well as increased its vote share by 6 percent. In Andhra Pradesh the TDP failed to mount up even a perceptible challenge against YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s juggernaut as YSRCP won an astounding 151 seats in the 175-member Assembly. The difference in vote share between the two rivals — YSRCP and TDP — was more than 10 percentage points. The above mentioned data points to the fact what the strategist’s detractors have been saying all along: Kishor can ride a wave and he can incrementally improve the performance given there’s a wind in sails for the one he’s representing, but he is still incapable of reversing a party’s position whose fortune is dwindling.
Now coming back to Bengal, Banerjee and her party are still poised at an advantageous position electorally vis-à-vis her bitter rival, the BJP, though its star is in the ascendant. In the Lok Sabha Election 2019, TMC lead in 158 Assembly segments compared to BJP’s 128, commanding a vote share of 43.28 percent an increase by 3.48 percentage points as compared to 2014. One needs to win 148 seats to form government in West Bengal. Despite acknowledging the fact that Kishor and his organisation IPAC are past masters at chalking out the nitty-gritties of a campaign with their unique way of connecting to the electorate, things can really go awry from here.
The beleaguered Chief Minister of West Bengal has been caught off-guard time and again with her ill-advised spur of the moment action to charge and later detain those chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans. Her pandering to minorities even after the poll setback has completely isolated a section of the majority community where a whopping 57 percent of them had voted for the saffron unit according to a CSDS post-poll survey.
To compound the problems further, the recent death of BJP and TMC workers in the political clashes in the state is not winning the firebrand leader any support. Rather, her administration is seen as ineffective in controlling the violence. A section of the electorate perceives the political violence as a well thought-out strategy to browbeat and intimidate those who oppose the ruling dispensation. A groundswell of disenchantment among government servants is also simmering to the surface as employees of the state government are miffed with the dearness allowance not being at par with their central government counterparts. It has created a chasm between elected representatives at the top and the public servants who manage the day to day functioning of the government at the ground level. The rift will surely have a negative impact on deliverance of populist schemes to the intended beneficiaries that is seen as a crucial element in Banerjee’s popularity.
Since the setback, Banerjee has also done little to check the charges of extortion and corruption that TMC leaders in various parts of the state have been accused of. Unless these issues are addressed on a war footing, the 3D-featured campaigns, the endless ‘charchas’ and social media programmes might bite the dust if the electorate decides beforehand to shift their allegiance to the BJP.
In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Kishor’s task was relatively easier: the 'chai pe charchas' with giant 3D screens, social media blitzkrieg helped him market and advertise Modi and his development plank in areas where the Gujarat chief minister was still a relatively unknown figure. It also helped Kishor that people were eagerly waiting for a change and nursing hope of a new beginning. But it’s different for Banerjee as the electorate in Bengal are too familiar of her presence or most importantly what she stands for and what she has done in the last decade while being at the helm of affairs in Bengal. In a politically conscious state, it’s difficult to win any election just on the back of campaigning as issues and governance tend to force the voters’ hands.
If Banerjee manages to retain power, Kishor would surely hog the limelight again claiming to be the differentiator who stopped the Modi-Shah juggernaut, but if he fails, the moniker of a fair-weather strategist will stick to his name for a long time to come. By agreeing to take up the task of being Banerjee's poll strategist, has Kishor put all his reputation at stake? That’s the big question.
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Updated Date: Jun 12, 2019 20:56:04 IST