Prashant Kishor – A freelance political strategist, tactician and soon to be a politician
Prashant Kishor, as a freelance political strategist, fits into the mould of a corporate consultant, a successful one. To speak the truth, he was the best political strategist there is and a pioneer in electioneering. So, much was expected from the interview of the best political strategist interviewed arguably the most visible freelance journalist of recent times. However, contrary to all the quotes in the media, the interview only highlighted how frustrated Prashant Kishor was – and is.
In corporate – or even in engineering analogy, every problem has some controllable and uncontrollable variables. In Prashant’s case, all his abilities and his organization are controllable, but the chaotic opposition and cacophony in the media that is continuously in search of sound bytes are the uncontrollable variables. So, despite all his will and, abilities, he is frustrated. In one way, this situation reminded me of the Indian Cricket team between 1995-2005. On paper, we had many talented players – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble, Jawagal Srinath, Harbhan Singh, etc. Still, they never won the T20 world cup. As Tendulkar had to wait for Dhoni so he could touch the world cup, all Prashant could do is wait for someone like Dhoni to resurrect the opposition.
Here is someone who could engineer and execute some of the sweetest electoral victories, from all sides of all ideologies. For some reason, he parted ways with Modi. Ever since he was hurt and rallying forces against Modi. Did he aspire to be a part of Modi’s cabinet? Maybe. But, there was absolutely no reason why Modi would never pick Prashant. He knew that. And, that hurts even more.
For the last few years, he was talking about becoming an active politician. Now, he confirmed he would be one before 2024. Few things he claim, however, were not absolute facts, though he may claim otherwise.
The first one was, he would never be comfortable in BJP’s ideological fold. Even Rahul Gandhi won’t believe this. Whatever Modi was and is, his persona remained the same since 2002. The runup to 2014 was perhaps the perfectly devised, most detailed election campaign to make the entire nation look at Modi as the saviour. How can anyone in the opposition believe in Prashant if he claims he doesn’t believe in the Hindutva ideology, but was merely doing his job? Of course, that doesn’t restrain the opposition leaders from engaging with him for their own good. After all, everyone runs their own family business.
He spoke on how BJP uses Hindutva, nationalism, and welfarism to its strength. He wanted the opposition to promise something better than what Narendra Modi was offering. Presenting alternate or superior narratives is the job of a politician – a leader, which Prashant admits he is not. The point is not only about who will do it but how?
Can any other party present a better narrative to those Hindus who vote for BJP? Even Prashant himself says not more than fifty-five percent of Hindus vote for BJP. Technically, that is true. Still, that would not answer the question. In fact, for BJP, Hindutva and nationalism are two sides of the same coin. To understand this, one shall accept the BJP narrative of Hindutva being the reactionary mechanism evolved to counteract the selective application of secularism. When Indira Gandhi fought Pakistan, she was backed by the then Jan Sangh. Similarly, Nehru got support from the opposition during the wars. Did the Congress back Modi – on surgical strikes? First, they discredited the government and by the time they decide to acknowledge, it was too late. Why the opposition still craves for Muslim vote – wherever it is available in bulk? How can religious polarisation be wrong but casteist polarisation is correct? Prashant should start searching for answers to these questions.
Then comes the bigger question – of bettering the welfare. The record of BJP in improving the country’s infrastructure and last-mile connectivity/ availability of welfare mechanisms was impeccable. In fact, Prashant has already learned a lesson from his failed trials at administering governance in Andhra Pradesh. So was the cautious remark on – election promises.
The ingenious mechanism he created in the form of about two and a half lakh volunteers at village/ ward level secretariats sounds really marvellous. It appears really someone was implementing the panchayat raj finally. However, lack of planning has turned the state upside down. Before expanding the gas connections to remote villages, Modi campaigned and urged citizens to give up subsidies. Also reevaluated the true status of the beneficiary – whether they deserve the subsidy or not. Lakhs of Aadhar cards were cancelled – and none complained because they all were benami. Did Prashant plan on how Jaganmohan Reddy can distribute all those freebies he promised before elections? Well, No. The volunteers were supposed to act as an interface between the government – in this case, the ruling party, and voters. How can they sustain a paltry payment of Rs.5000/- per month? Many of them may spend more on their monthly petrol. Is there any doubt that this system would only add another level of corruption to the existing maze? And, these youngsters expected their jobs will be regularized. While the government of Andhra Pradesh tried hard to fulfill those promises, the lack of adequate planning has led to a financial mess. And, it is the chief minister and his finance minister that will face the music and not Prashant Kishor. If at all, there is any contribution to the ruling from Prashant Kishor, he brought the old Lalu brand Bihar politics to Andhra Pradesh. No wonder, Modi would be smiling at his decision of not inducting Prashant into the administration.
Notwithstanding his follies, Prashant’s observations were accurate. He explained why there is no need to project a single alternative face to Modi. He cited examples of farmers’ agitation, CAA protests, etc. And, he was correct. I can add one more to the list. The recent attempt by the Union government to have more say over the deputation of IAS officers. Prashant cited the emergence of Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) and V P Singh (VP), who can take on strong leaders and dislodge them successfully. What he failed to mention was both JP and VP have emerged as a counter-acting force. If JP was the result of Indira’s dictatorial tendencies, VP was the result of the single most word that is associated with Congress all along – Corruption. And, all this means, strong leaders could only fail on their own. I think it was Shekher Gupta, who said Modi can only be defeated by Modi – damaging his own image by doing something that would annoy voters so much so that they resent him.
Well, the point here is – these are some failed attempts by Modi, the prime minister. No doubt in that. There is one bad advisor to Modi, who thought the majority in Lok Sabha means the government can do whatever it wants. In fact, the government could very well talk to others and take the opposition into confidence. However, in the present atmosphere, it is not possible. As Rahul Gandhi declared, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the parliament functions. With that mindset, things won’t improve. And, Modi won’t be wasting time with pretentious niceties. He would try ten, If four of them failed, so be it. Six have worked. The opposition may go the people speaking only about four failed attempts – which have not caused any damage to anyone. They won’t get votes. Modi will go to the people and talk about six achievements, some of them helped someone. He will get votes.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi transformed the principal opposition party into a bunch of trolls. All they do from morning to evening, day in and day out, was sarcastically comment on Modi, which is nothing but trolling. Even after tweeting a lot, the Amul Baby cries his Twitter followers are not increasing – like it that is the major issue for the opposition. Priyanka Vadra, who took on women’s issues had gone mute when a girl was raped in Rajasthan and one Congress woman minister absolved the state government by blaming the society. Does she think people don’t notice these – strategic silences? Well, those days have gone. People sit and take notice of things – whether rapists were killed in an encounter, as it happened in Telangana; or the state government disappears when a girl student commits suicide alleging religious conversion attempts by her teachers, as it is now happening in Tamil Nadu.
What Prashant needs to understand is people – or voters, don’t bother about parties. Whether it is BJP, Congress, or some other party. They look at who controls that party, the credibility of the person, and whether the person can deliver their needs. So, what is in it for voters – in defeating BJP? As of today, no opposition leader can answer this question.
If one analyses the performance of Prashant Kishor and his organization in the last few years the record is – contrary to all the propaganda, not so impressive. The Bihar could never have happened if not for the Mahaghatbandhan, which is a political coup of sorts, despite its short life. If it was PK who could convince Nitish to join hands with Lalu, he should have convinced many other opposition leaders to come together. But, such things did not happen in other states. It was Nitish Kumar’s aversion to Narendra Modi that pushed him to Lalu. When he realized his own image took a beating, he reverted back. Meanwhile, the multipronged fight in Goa and Punjab shows how divided the opposition really is.
Similarly, the wins of Capt. Amarinder Singh, Mamata Banerjee, Jaganmohan Reddy, Stalin were certainties. Prashant’s contribution is in the increased margin. Of these, wins in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were not over BJP. Though Prashant may claim the opposition alliance includes BJP, it is applicable only in TN. In AP, where BJP was never a force to reckon – just the way it is in TN (or even Kerala), BJP did not ally with TDP, the principal opposition party. In the last few years, if Nitish Kumar ditching RJD was the biggest blow to Prashant. At the same time, his biggest achievement remains in restricting BJP in Bengal, supported amply by BJP itself.
In the latest Goan episode, AAP and TMC are fighting separately with not only BJP and Congress, but even with the NCP-SS alliance. This, clearly exposes the myth that was cultivated so carefully over years. This is the bitter truth that is annoying Prashant Kishor. But, he was dealing with political houses and not business houses, where the individual expectations are much clear. In due course of time, Prashant will realize that chances of all opposition parties coming together will be greater only if Modi’s proposal of having simulations to state assemblies and Parliament. Otherwise, every state assembly election will continuously expose the differences in opposition.
The root cause of Prashant’s frustration is he wanted something a politician wanted, by doing the job of a strategist. Maybe, it will really help Prashant, to emulate Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg by seeking some guidance from someone in Uttarakhand – or Goa, or any other place of his choice. But, he definitely needs someone to help him out in identifying exactly what he wants. Irrespective of whether his wishes be fulfilled or not, he will be a happy person.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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Excellent topic for discussion, well analysed by a person who clearly knows the subject he’s talking about, and has drawn the right conclusions. Kudos!
A few points I may like to add:
1. PK appears to have given the impression during the interview that if any political formation/ leader neutralises Modi/ BJP in respect of Hindutva, nationalism and welfarism, they stand a good chance. This is strategically wrong. A better Cola can’t replace Coca Cola, to take an analogy from business, which will be easier to understand.
Unless the opposition comes up with an alternative formation/ leader who/ which differs from Modi/ BJP on a specific count, and the difference is substantially that much relevant to the people, no opposition formation/ leader can easily replace Modi. What that difference could be is a million dollar question, esp given the positive things going for Modi/ BJP, and the heterogeneity of India, in terms of languages, religions, castes, interests, etc. It’s not enough if such a relevant difference were identified, but the formation/ leader should be perceived by the people as clearly symbolising that difference.
I think all this appears to be tall order.
2. Assuming the strategy of the opposition is not to win, but just to defeat Modi in LS election in different states, even without being a combined opposition, by winning 272+ seats (it may have to be at least 325+, if not more, adding all opposition seats, given their internal contradictions), and then hope to find a consensus PM, this is a non-starter; opposition have high stakes in their states where they are in power, and they have so many risks in others becoming PM, that they would prefer Modi at the centre and they retaining their own states. This is like crabs not letting the other crabs escape. Only those with nothing to lose and everything to gain will resort to daredevil acts, and such parties (like NCP) are anyway not winners in their own states.
3. Even assuming that by default, if not by design, Opposition garner enough seats to form the Govt at the Centre, they will be forced to make a dummy the PM, as no party will accept the supremo of the other leading opposition parties to become the PM. Such a Govt can’t last for long.
4. Even assuming someone else from BJP has to take over from PMship Modi, there is enough depth in the party, and it’s a fairly disciplined party. So, BJP is here to stay in power at the Centre for long, till there is something fundamental that changes the equation, which looks very unlikely.
So, PK is living in fool’s paradise, but he has nowhere else to live, as he’s a thinking person, a strategist. He’s bound to be an unhappy man for a long time to come, until he gives up his efforts of opposition unity.
Of course, PK can play a role in the states, to counter the BJP election machinery.
This model of many states with different opposition parties and Centre with BJP has created a good equilibrium, creating enough space for a working democracy, even if very noisy.