Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has put Prashant Kishor on her burning deck. Everyone connected with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) would listen to the master poll strategist behind closed doors of Kolkata’s Nazrul Mancha auditorium on Thursday.
Just imagine: “Didi”, that giant slayer of Left in Bengal, would be all ears to a man who has lived fewer years than she has spent in politics. Not just she but all her generals—young or old, fair or dark, rural or urban—would look to know about their own Bengal from a man who wouldn’t move in Kolkata without a GPS. None of them is mindful that he, being a member of JD(U), is part of NDA-2 and thus from the enemy’s ranks. Who said politicians are cynical?
Mamata, like all of us, is beholden to Kishor’s track record. He drew Narendra Modi’s 2014 poll strategy and within six months had helped Nitish Kumar beat back the new Prime Minister from the gates of Bihar. He turned around Congress’ fortunes in Punjab as he has now done with YS Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, taking care of upstarts (Arvind Kejriwal) and seasoned (Chandrababu Naidu) as hounds do, completely impartial to their prey. There, of course, is Congress and Shame of UP in 2017 but this can wait.
We are all beholden to this spectacle where politicians, with all their hubris and enmity, treachery and ruthlessness, sit on stools as lions do to the crack of this ringmaster’s whip, tail between their legs. This ringmaster had never walked into a (political) circus before, was pathetic as a student, a poor reader of books, a self-confessed black sheep of the family, never stuck to a job yet now has these political animals on a leash.
And he does it on his own terms. He would only deal with the bosses—not even Amit Shah—and everyone must submit to his charter, no questions asked. He is least enamoured of any politician and could walk out of a room without as much as even a goodbye. He calls out his own party head Nitish Kumar for not seeking a fresh mandate after dumping Lallu Yadav. He helped Capt Amarinder Singh only because he didn’t like Arvind Kejriwal mocking him in press. He would help Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena only if he is assured the security of migrant north Indians in the state of Maharashtra. He once didn’t answer the calls of DMK as he didn’t of political parties in Kerala.
It would surprise many to know that Prashant Kishor is almost disdainful of our governing class which includes both politicians and bureaucrats. It interests him little that he is snapped with high and mighty; that he is entrusted with hundreds of crores to put his plan in motion; that unlimited power could be his mistress.
What then drives this man?
We would have to go back to 2011 when a paper of his on malnutrition caught the eye of Modi’s government in Gujarat. He was invited to visit the state and correct his impression. One day, he contributed to a speech of Modi; another day he drew a sense of data and soon he was drawn into the inner circle. 2014 polls beckoned, he drew up a charter, and if you have heard of “Chai pe Charcha,” credit our man for it.
He left Modi because he wanted his dream of CAG (Citizens for Accountable Governance) to happen overnight. This CAG has now metamorphosed into I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee). It’s this I-PAC which is key to understanding our man.
Prashant Kishor is troubled by the fact that only 7-odd per cent in India’s parliament is below 40. Almost 70 per cent of this small percentage belongs to political dynasties. This leaves only 2-3 per cent of bold and beautiful to chart their own cut. He is upset that a health secretary, previously in transport and due to be a telecom secretary tomorrow, could decide on technical matters and overrule professionals who have spent a lifetime in mastering the issue. He credits five biggest reforms of independent India– food (M.S.Swaminathan), milk (Verghese Kurien), telecom (Sam Pitroda), space (Vikram Sarabhai) and atomic energy (APJ Abdul Kalam)—to the men who were not part of governance or bureaucracy.
I-PAC is one that dream where Prashant Kishor wants to draw tens of thousands of India’s young and competent, train them to take over panchayats, parishads, mahapalikas of the country, practically draw a parallel political ecosystem and transform India. It made him impatient with Modi; it makes him dismissive of coterie—“Can’t be mindful of what the ecosystem thinks about me”—and it made him reject Rahul Gandhi post-2017 UP debacle.
The UP debacle still singes Kishor. He had drawn up a 14-point charter for Congress but only two were implemented—Sonia Gandhi launching the campaign from Varanasi, and Rahul Gandhi’s yatra from Deoria to Delhi on farmers’ loan-waiver issue. “I have no option but to accept the blame since I didn’t quit on not being followed,” remembered Kishor in an interview. He feels let down when politicians use his charter but don’t implement them when in power.
There are all telltale signs that Kishor wouldn’t do politicians’ bidding any longer. He would remain with JD (U) because he wants Bihar to be a top state on all indicators of progress. Personally, Nitish Kumar has afforded him the freedom to nurture his I-PAC and make Bihar his political laboratory. So what accounts for his present engagement with Mamata Banerjee?
In all likelihood, Kishor might have been “loaned” by Nitish Kumar so as to send a not-so-veiled a message to Modi on denial of ministerial berths in the Union Cabinet. If Kishor could stop BJP’s juggernaut, it could lead to new alignments in Indian politics. It might allow Nitish Kumar to project himself as an alternative to Modi in 2024 polls.
In the last month or so, West Bengal has thrown up two rising political stars. New MP Nusrat Jahan, with her oath in the Parliament and participation in Jagannath rathyatra, has caught the eye even of Hindus. Then there is rabid Mahua Moitra who is lip-syncing Mamata Banerjee and appealing to Muslim and “pseudo-seculars” of the country. Both, without doubt, are acting on Prashant Kishor’s script.
How BJP would love to eavesdrop on the closed-door auditorium on Thursday.