Prashant Kishor, master poll strategist, is facing the toughest battle of his career in Bengal. He is advising the Trinamool Congress while the Bharatiya Janata Party is breathing down the latter’s neck.
The BJP has arrived in Bengal, which even Kishor admits.
“The BJP is here to stay for a long time, make no mistake,” he said in an interview to The He conceded that the BJP, and Prime Minister Modi’s personal appeal, had created a ‘formidable social coalition alloying religion with subaltern castes’ and shored up sections of the non-Bengali voter, but argued that polarisation of the electorate would take the BJP some distance but no further.
However, he claims that the party cannot cross double digits in the state and if BJP does manage to cross 100 seats he would leave this space forever. The reason why the BJP can’t win in Bengal is because its denominator is only 70% of the population, i.e the non-Muslims.
To note, the BJP won state elections in Assam in 2016 where the denominator was only 65% (35% minority population). Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and Bihar recently in 2020 where the denominator was only 70% (30% Muslim-Yadav population).
Kishor came to limelight when his organisation — Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) — managed the high-pitched election campaign of Narendra Modi. His ‘chai pe charcha’ programme was a hit setting new trends in electioneering campaigns in India.
Many young professionals from top-notch institutes joined CAG in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls 2014 attracted by Modi and his development plank. However, the two divorced soon after.
After Modi got a thumping majority, Kishor felt he didn't get due credit which was stolen by Modi's right-hand man Amit Shah and the BJP's IT cell team.
On the contrary, Amit Shah was upset that Kishor was usurping credit for Modi's victory.
Kishor then formed IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee) and managed successful campaigns for Nitish Kumar (Bihar, 2015), Amarinder Singh (Punjab, 2017), Jagan Reddy (Andhra, 2019) and Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi, 2020). His unsuccessful stint was with Congress in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
In Bihar state elections of 2015, Kishor teamed up with Nitish and handed the BJP a deadly blow, stopping the Modi-Shah juggernaut and taking revenge of sorts.
What is the contribution of Kishor in Modi’s victory in 2014? This is a tricky question to answer. Could Modi have won without Kishor's campaign? Most probably. Could the BJP have got an absolute majority on its own without Kishor's help? The BJP could have got a few lesser seats.
This also brings us to another moot question: "can good marketing sell a bad product?" Could Kishor running a campaign for Rahul Gandhi have won the elections for Congress in 2014? The answer is obvious.
It is said that he picks winners while deciding whom to work for, but that doesn’t in any way take away his professional expertise. He has recently been appointed as the principal advisor to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee contacted Kishor after the BJP made significant inroads in Bengal in the 2019 general elections. The BJP managed to relegate the Left Front to a non-entity.
A Hindu awakening of sorts in the state, with the BJP firmly branding Didi as one indulging in the politics of ‘minority appeasement’, threatened to dislodge the Trinamool Congress government in 2021 state elections.
Under Kishor’s supervision, the TMC has launched outreach programmes, named Duare Sarkar, Paray Samadhan, Swasthya Sathi and the Didi Ke Bolo helpline. He also advised Didi to deny tickets to roughly 30% of sitting MLAs in a bid to negate anti-incumbency.
It’s not an easy election for Kishor. Ten years of anti-incumbency, together with allegations of cut money, corruption, dynasty politics and minority appeasement, seem to be working on the ground for the BJP.
A polarized environment has been created and this helps the BJP as we have seen in the past. Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have almost put their reputation at stake. Modi is expected to conduct 24 rallies/roadshows covering all the districts.
Amit Shah has been camped here for a week before the Phase 1 elections. The BJP’s well-oiled machinery and RSS cadre are burning the midnight oil to install the first saffron government in the state.
The eight-phase election provides BJP the opportunity to optimize its resources. With elections being held under CRPF supervision, the BJP feels it has a chance as people could vote without any fear.
Kishor admits the importance of this election in The Telegraph interview. “The BJP can afford to lose this election and still remain a strong all-India party, the others cannot. This election will mean the difference between India retaining the vibrancy of a multi-party democracy and becoming a one-nation, one-party state. That is how important this election is.”
To sum up, Kishor has humbled the BJP in the past on many occasions. Can he do it again or will the BJP be able to score a victory like in Uttar Pradesh and push him into oblivion? Only time will tell...