The Tearing Desperation of Prashant Kishor

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor's recent bravado against the BJP only reveals his desperation
The Tearing Desperation of Prashant Kishor

Poll strategist-for-hire Prashant Kishor’s freshly-baked eruption of bravado sounds amusing. It is amusement tinged with a highly-visible desperation. For all his fame as some kind of election-winning wizard, Kishor seems to have fallen out of tune with the changed Indian political landscape: that chest-thumping boasting and doomsday thundering in public is largely a thing of the past. It had worked when Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were at the helm. Indeed, even Rajiv Gandhi’s numerous boastful bouts cost him dearly as recent history shows. Projecting confidence through aggressive speeches is not the same as authoritative pronouncements of finality.

It is indeed incredible that Prashant Kishor who is repeatedly patting himself on the back for “making” Narendra Modi the Prime Minister in 2014 has forgotten the key ingredients in Modi’s success recipe: a lifetime devoted to honing his skills, measured approach and an incredible sense of timing. Above all, the Modi-success that Prashant Kishor claims to appropriate for himself occurred for a fundamental reason: the product that the Indian electorate voted so overwhelmingly in 2014 was compelling.

The Tearing Desperation of Prashant Kishor
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Look at the products Kishor has tried to sell ever since: the Nitish-Lalu alliance, which won in 2015, warmed the cockles of the secular establishment heart not because of the victory but because the BJP was kept out. In reality, the Bihar “secular” victory came at Nitish’s expense. The JD(U) scored 71 seats, an appalling 44-seat fall from its 2010 tally while the RJD added a massive 58 seats. “Master strategist” Prashant Kishor had shown the PowerPoint-painted moon of victory to Nitish Kumar but Lalu Prasad Yadav had the last laugh. Barely three months and the Bihar coalition government was firmly in the thrall of Lalu’s mafia-like operation. This then is the other theme of BJP-hatred: in its nearly three-decade-long history of coalition politics, the BJP has been the magnanimous partner even when it had an upper hand. The result in Bihar? About a year later, “master strategist” Prashant Kishor’s work was dismantled by the selfsame Nitish Kumar who returned to his coalition mothership, the BJP.

The next product was Rahul Gandhi in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls. In fact, Kishor’s superhuman efforts in these elections are akin to a parody of a parody. One wonders what Kishor was thinking when he promised to “revive” the Congress in Uttar Pradesh of all places. That state was the original ground where the Congress committed political suicide at the turn of the 1990s decade, never to return. The climax of the parody was reached when the late Sheila Dixit was announced as the Congress Chief Ministerial candidate! This announcement was the outcome of Sonia Gandhi’s scolding to Kishor because he had projected Priyanka Vadra as the chief campaigner in UP. Prashant Kishor has vastly underestimated the workings of the Congress party ecosystem. He would learn at great cost. Raj Babbar called him a “sound recordist,” and Motilal Vora slashed the IPAC campaign budget. And then just as suddenly, Rahul Gandhi charged that Modi was doing Khooni Ki Dalali. Prashant Kishor had landed himself in a spectacular mess with the result that he decided to quit midway.

The Tearing Desperation of Prashant Kishor
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Then there’s the myth that Prashant Kishor did some kind of magic in the 2017 Punjab elections. One name suffices to put that myth to rest: Captain Amarinder Singh. This formidable strongman is perhaps the only Congress leader who can win on his own: he is a one-man party within the Congress, a strength he is fully aware of and was the reason he told Sonia Gandhi to keep her 50-year-old toddler away from Punjab, away from ruining his chances in 2017. As for Kishor, the good Captain correctly showed him his place: do not meddle in my state.

The same can be said in varying degrees about Kishor’s forays in the Delhi and Andhra Pradesh elections. Both states had wave elections and those who know Y.S. Jagan Reddy’s abrasive style of functioning will testify that Prashant Kishor’s role was largely that of a cup-bearer, to put it politely.

Mamata Banerjee
Mamata Banerjee

Which bring us now to his alleged superpowers in trying to help Mamata Banerjee retain her power. While this piece provides a good level of detail into the inner workings of Prashant Kishor in the ensuing Bengal elections, there is a fundamental aspect that needs to be examined at some depth.

Even after about a year after Narendra Modi’s stunning 2014 victory, Prashant Kishor was largely a backroom boy of sorts. In public perception, he had suddenly emerged from nowhere and delivered a brilliant triumph in perhaps the most important election since Independence. And he began to believe it himself. A 2016 piece in the Open magazine had analysed Prashant Kishor’s graceless downfall from the BJP quite accurately:

Kishor, who had by then acquired a halo…began carping that things were ‘not going as planned’… In private chats, he had started grumbling that the Modi Government was not delivering on the pre-poll promises of what he claimed was a presidential sort of campaign. While he had indeed worked hard for the victory, RSS workers at the grassroots had operated like a well-oiled machine, too. But he spoke as if he had a special claim to the credit; Modi, he began telling colleagues and journalists, wasn’t living up to his expectations… It didn’t help that Kishor had run down the cyber cell that handled a part of the poll war room, and antagonised several leaders with his ‘attitude problem’… Accustomed to throwing his weight around in the days when he was Modi’s blue-eyed boy, Kishor knew it was time to look for greener pastures… Complaints began to surface about mismanagement of the previous campaign led by Kishor.

All these elements are consistent with what The Print’s op-ed on the “poll wunderkid” says about how Kishor once again, is infuriating the TMC leaders. The same “attitude problem” at work. It is also deeply psychological. Prashant Kishor has never forgotten and can never forget what he considers as humiliation he suffered at the hands of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. From Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Andhra and now Bengal, it appears that Kishor is on a single-minded quest to personally defeat Modi. But as the same track record shows, his advice has largely boomeranged on the very leaders he has advised.

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As for Mamata Banerjee’s current crisis, she has emerged as the latest face of a fading phenomenon in Indian politics: the one-man/one-woman leader of a regional political dynasty. Jayalalithaa is gone. Karunanidhi is gone. Mulayam will go. Lalu will go perhaps sooner than later. Deve Gowda’s party is tottering on the brink of extinction. This is perhaps KCR’s last chance. It remains to be seen how long the Christian Chief Minister Jagan Reddy will last.

Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, purportedly her successor, has already escalated the fires within the TMC. It appears that this particular dynasty will be over before it began. This then is the latest product that Prashant Kishor has staked everything to sell. Perhaps he has forgotten another simple but crucial, fundamental fact: that a cadre-based party like the BJP does not derive its present formidable strength from poll strategists but from generations of hard work, patience, and methodical, nationwide organization-building. Poll strategists like Prashant Kishor are exactly what the term implies: vendors who are engaged by the party during polls.

For all his swagger, Prashant Kishor has himself revealed his true strength when he said that he would quit Twitter if the BJP crosses two digits in the upcoming poll. If he had the guts to walk the talk, he would have said that he would his political career. That is the attitude of the truly brave.

Kailash Vijayavargiya’s jibe must have really hurt this student.

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