Lalu Prasad Yadav laughs at him condescendingly in a news bite. Nitish Kumar feels no need to comment on his tweet and when Prashant Kishor is shown these clips in an interview on a news channel, he calls himself a small fry and considers it big of these stalwarts to even comment on him.
A tad too humble for a man who has serious bragging rights in politics? But don’t be fooled to mistake modesty for weakness. He’s the same man who announced, without flinching once, renouncing election strategising if BJP crossed the 100 mark in the Bengal Assembly election in 2021. Prashant Kishor surely knows when to talk what. And he seems to be in no hurry to gain power or approval.
Prashant Kishor will go down in history as the man who changed the way elections are fought in India. He’s made it more scientific and data-driven as much as other politicians have tried to make it more stone-age. And perhaps his debut into active politics, solo, without any dramatics of an Anna-Hazare-like-crutch, is as much strategised than his critics would like to believe.
Kishor’s push for a people’s movement
With the media in a constant frenzy to find out who ditched who between the Congress and Prashant Kishor, a new development emerged. Last week should hopefully be a watershed moment in India’s political history after Modi’s advent to power. Randeep Singh Surjewala, General Secretary of Congress, confirmed that Prashant Kishor declined to join the Congress even after Kishor presented to them a plan of action on how to reinvent the Congress party. A few days later, Prashant Kishor tweeted about “turning a page” and going to the people to understand their issues, starting from Bihar. News channels took down their loudspeakers on ‘azaan’ and ‘hanuman chalisa’ and suddenly started discussing politics for a change. They ought to be considering that on the horizon of Indian politics is India’s greatest political tactician speaking of a new political concept – ‘Jan Suraaj’.
After Prashant Kishor’s cryptic tweet on Jan Suraaj, what can be understood from his subsequent press conference and interviews is that Kishor is trying to start a peoples’ movement. And the Bihar padyatra he has announced is to gather feedback and prepare a plan of action that will form the basis of a governance blueprint for Bihar that can go beyond empty promises of today’s politicians. Both of Kishor’s concepts, ‘Jan Suraaj’ –- going to the people, who he calls “the masters”— and the ‘padyatra’, are very conspicuously Gandhiesque endeavours.
Kishor’s affinity for Gandhian ideals
Prashant Kishor has made no qualms in showing his affinity to Gandhi’s ideals. Truth is, there is enough space in Indian politics for Gandhian principles. Despite the Narendra Modi government trying to replace the iconography and ideology of Gandhi with that of Savarkar, Gandhi continues to have a towering impact on India’s politics. US President Joe Biden spoke of his ideals in the White House last year.
Sometime before that Kamala Harris did. In pop-culture too, movies like Lage Raho Munnabhai, where a goon starts living his life based on Gandhian beliefs, become blockbuster hits even today. Unfortunately, the flag bearers of Gandhi’s ideology, the grand old party has so many wheels within wheels that their ‘raison d’être’ has been diluted beyond recognition. ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi’s ideology has been relegated to a dingy backroom in 24, Akbar Road and the party has become all about the ‘Gandhis’ on 10, Janpath Road.
Prashant Kishor is very clearly trying to fill this space. He has Gandhi as his cover picture on his Twitter profile and his backdrop for his first press conference post his announcement of ‘Jan Suraaj’ was of Gandhi.
For the last eight years, political commentators, media and politicians have been on the lookout for the ‘kryptonite’ that will end the superpowers of Narendra Modi. This kryptonite is often, in layman’s language, called ‘an alternative’. Nationally, no one really seems to have the appeal because the leaders who have given a grinding defeat to Modi are regional ‘kshatraps’ who have language barriers or just don’t have the personality to take on a mammoth figure like Modi. The closest challenger so far is Arvind Kejriwal. The problem with Kejriwal, however, is that he comes across like a ‘clone-gone-bad’ of Modi. He’s Modi without an alleged communal past and with an edge on good governance.
Why Kishor is different from other players
But Prashant Kishor is a game changer. For starters, he’s been a crucial factor in the victories of regional leaders against BJP. So, he knows a few things and has an idea about what it takes to win against Modi’s BJP. The open secret of winning elections is: perception building and peoples’ welfare. And Kishor is skillful at both. In all the election campaigns that he’s designed, including the one for Modi back in 2014, Kishor has always insisted on development and welfare schemes, which worked like magic not only for Modi (Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas) but also for Nitish Kumar (Nitish ke Nishchay Vikas ki guarantee), Kejriwal in 2020 (Lage Raho Kejriwal) and Mamata Banerjee in Bengal (Duare Duare Paschim Banga Sarkar—West Bengal government at every doorstep) scheme in 2021.
Prashant Kishor has managed to do what Narendra Modi couldn’t in spite of being showered with praises of charisma and strength. A press conference! In fact, after announcing ‘Jan Suraaj’, one of Prashant Kishor’s first interviews to ABP News, was on a show called ‘Press Conference’. If that’s not some great subliminal messaging, I don’t know what is. And all this with no political godfather, lineage or backing.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)