By Florine Roche
Dec 20: Post Bihar elections, with the Mahagathbandhan coasting a landslide victory, there seems to be a sea-change in the political arithmetic in the country, especially the way in which election campaigns are going to be conducted. For one, Bihar assembly election results are the most important and keenly awaited state elections during Narendra Modi’s tenure at the helm as Prime Minister. For many political watchers especially those who wanted the Modi/BJP juggernaut to come to a grinding halt after it had tasted victory in Maharashtra and Haryana, Bihar results proved to be the right antidote they were all waiting for. The opposition is still basking in that glory of Bihar victory chiding BJP and more so Modi to score brawny points whenever possible. Above all, the Bihar mandate was an acid test for BJP’s Amit Shah to keep his reputation intact as an electoral wizard of par excellence.
Bihar also proved to be a hunting ground for the new kid in the block in electoral politics of India - Prashant Kishor, to evaluate and reaffirm his standing as the new ace electoral strategist weaving his magical web in India’s political reckoning.
If the results are anything to go by, prima facie it can be said that Prashant Kishor had the last laugh much to the discomfiture of Amit Shah because Bihar elections was touted as BJP's acid test. So much so, after the results there were fissures within the BJP which wanted to fix the responsibility for the electoral loss on Amit Shah and the old guards had once again come to the fore taking pot-shots at Modi/Shah camp. The BJP has overcome that crisis for the time being but it remains to be seen how the party will be able to handle the battle of Uttar Pradesh which is getting ready for assembly elections in 2017.
Prashant Kishore and his team had played a quintessential role in the 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat and then 2014 general elections. In fact, Prashant and his team had left the Modi camp as he felt he was not given his due for the victory of Modi in 2014 elections. His team was looking for high profile role in the policy making and implementation under the new government led by BJP. But that wasn’t feasible as it would have created two power centres and would mean more trouble.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar with Prashant Kishor
So it did not happen the way he had envisaged and an ambitious Prashant Kishor was waiting for an opportune time to settle scores with his bête-noires in the BJP and prove himself. That was when the machivallean Nitish Kumar, sensing that stopping Modi juggernaut was crucial for his political career in Bihar and also with an eye on Prime Minister’s gaddi, decided to rope in Kishor. The thumping win for the Mahagathbandhan is the result of this strategy and this result in Bihar is sure to embolden other states to adopt a similar strategy – fight the BJP as a single united force.
The coming assembly elections may keep Prashant and team busy for the next few years. But then the question is how long? Post Bihar elections Prashant is finding himself in situation similar to what he had gone through in BJP after the 2014 general elections where he was persona-non-grata. RJD does not want to give full credit to professionals like Prashnt Kishor for the electoral victory in Bihar. Senior RJD leaders like Sharad Yadav and others have openly expressed their annoyance in this regard because it undermined the role of seniors like him in the party. Even the BJP may not call him back following some of his acerbic remarks against it. However, Nitish Kumar who has firmly set his eyes on Delhi needs him more than anything, in his bid to vie for that coveted post.
Victory has many fathers but a loser is an orphan and naturally Prashant Kishor has become a celebrity in his own way after the Bihar results. Apart from putting a halt to BJP’s victories post Modi wave Prashant Kishor and team also wanted to demonstrate that it was the poll campaign strategy weaved by his team ensured a massive mandate for BJP in the 2014 general elections. May be the claim sounded too outlandish and audacious at that time. However, there are many takers for the claim now, especially after the Bihar mandate. It is said that now there is a strong clamour among Chief Ministers like Mamata Bannerjee and J Jayalalithaa who has almost becomes satraps of their respective states, to rope in the services of Prashant Kishor. Even the Congress is mulling taking the help of this professional group to give a complete makeover Rahul Gandhi as it is bracing to face the elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh within the next two years.
No Cake Walk
Whether Prashant Kishore will be able to replicate his success elsewhere or whether he will be able to give a complete makeover to Rahul Gandhi remains to be seen. Today, the Congress party is reduced to play a second fiddle to other political parties in almost all states. The party lacks a mass leader who can keep its flock together, especially at the time of crisis. On the other hand both Modi and Nitish are charismatic mass leaders, seasoned politicians, great orators and who are in tune with the pulse of the masses and can be crafty as and when needed. So Prashant and his team did not have the responsibility of molding their personalities to a great extent. The same cannot be said about Rahul Gandhi whose oratorical skills if any, are mediocre as he is making news mainly for his anti-Modi anti-RSS rhetoric.
Moreover, in a completely polarized political scenario it was the caste factor and the coming together of three major political parties that proved to be the undoing for the BJP. It also cannot be denied that for all the brouhaha about the role of Prashant and his team in projecting and creating a Hawaaa in favour of Nitish Kumar it was RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav which walked away more seats than JD (U). Even the Congress was able to win 27 seats with only 6.7 % votes as against BJP winning 53 seats with 24.4% vote share.
An astute and quick learner Prashant Kishor will definitely think twice before jumping the bandwagon to accept the responsibility to replicate the same success he has to his credit, elsewhere. May be that is the reason his next task on hand is not poll but a book and there is no guessing that the book is all about dissecting the Indian politics and electoral battles. Prashant must have realized that now the stakes will be high on him and he will have s to work doubly hard to have similar results or even come anywhere closer to what he has achieved. With regard to Mamatha and Jayalalitha, it can be said that Prashant Kishore kind-of electoral marketing strategy may have much of a say because BJP is not the prime opposition party in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
Professional Approach Inevitable
Naturally, the challenge on hand is quite tough if at all he is tempted to test his marketing skills. As of now he must be taking the much needed sabbatical to plan his future strategy and the book may be just a stop gap arrangement. If he has taken a leap out of Obama campaign definitely there will be many brains who will adopt a similar or better political strategy. His campaigns har ghar dustak and collecting DNA samples in response to Modi’s DNA comment against Nitish, had not hit bull’s eye in Bihar, should be borne in mind. Moreover in Bihar it was the rural voters who gave the Mahagathbandhan the required lead and so whether it was Prashant’s strategy alone that had influenced the rural voters, is still a valid question.
Nevertheless a professional approach a la Prashant Kishor style to handle election campaigns will become indispensible in the near future and they will definitely find new takers especially among the young and dashing IITians. It is believed that even Akhilesh Yaadav is toying with the idea of having Prashant Kishor to stymie the challenge that BJP might pose in Uttar Pradesh for the 2017 assembly elections. With Prashant proving his capability and the scope it offers, there will be many new kids in the block who might be ready to shoulder the responsibility and challenge of carrying out a similar kind of electoral strategy proved successful by Prashant Kishor.
So, in future, it cannot be denied that just like the bitterly opposing political parties there might be professional electoral strategists whose role will be indispensable in India’s political scenario. But one should not undermine the role of caste and other factors that influence Indian voters and therefore the role of traditional strategist like Amit Shah also cannot be ruled out but with a touch of professionalism. May be a combination of traditional and professional approach is what we are going to see in the future in India’s political state of affairs.