After getting a convincing victory over the mighty BJP, Mamata Banerjee is set to be the Chief Minister of Bengal for the third time. Although Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidates have come victorious in more than two third of the seats, Mamata herself lost her way to the legislative assembly.
Be that as it may, the fact that she is not a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) is not going to hold her back from taking oath as Chief Minister. Constitutional provision warrants her to win a byelection anytime within six months of taking oath as CM.
But couldn't a two-time incumbent CM find a safe seat for herself? Unsurprisingly the answer is yes. Bhabanipur, from where she won the last assembly poll, has gone to TMC's tally again this time. Mamata's decision to not run from a safe seat was deliberately taken as part of a bigger strategy. When Shuvendu
Adhikari, the second tallest leader of TMC after Mamata, defected to join BJP in the run-up to the election, she decided to fight Shuvendu head on in his own turf, Nandigram.
However, this unorthodox move had profound implications on the ground. Shuvendu was supposed to campaign across the state as his own constituency was being considered safe. But Mamata's candidacy from Nandigram barred him from wielding influence on other seats than Nandigram.
This in turn didn't let him play the role of a star campaigner that BJP expected of him. Many disgruntled TMC leaders started giving second thought to their plan since this would invite Mamata's similar wrath. Moreover, this decision evoked the memory of a fighter Mamata, who became oblivious after being in power for two terms. Winning the seat would surely be the icing on the cake but on balance the bold move has yielded results.
Prashant Kishor, the public health professional turned election strategist, put his neck on the line after tweeting that had the BJP crossed two-digit mark, he would have retired from what he has been doing for the last ten years.
BJP ended up having well below 100 seats. Quite naturally Prashant has been receiving plaudits from everywhere since the result came out. But in a surprising move he declared this election as his swan song. Perhaps he wants to retire from being in the top or merely being a political aid doesn't tempt him anymore. Whatever the reason being, his decision to quit strategising elections prompts reflection on the legacy he leaves. Speculations on his future move abounds.
Prashant Kishor, a public health professional associated with WHO, has become the disruptor in chief in India's electoral politics within just a decade. Ten years back he authored a paper on the malnutrition problem prevailing in several big states in India, including Gujarat. Narendra Modi, the then CM of Gujrat, noticed it and invited Prashant to join him in solving this issue.
Prashant sensed this offer as an opportunity to influence policy at the highest level. Modi, apparently pleased with Prashant's ability to interpret data, started giving him more responsibility. In 2012, for the first time Prashant got involved in electioneering. Modi retained power in that election. This success actually placed Prashant at the helm of Modi's bid for premiership in 2014.
Mainstream media houses in Delhi had always been unfavorable to Modi. Prashant decided to bypass them. They launched a massive outreach programme called 'chai pe charcha' (discussion over tea). With this new tea stall centric campaign, a new brand image, hinged on Modi's humble background, started to evolve. A general election in a parliamentary system was fought in a purely presidential manner.
When the result came, Modi took Prashant to Delhi with him. The initial plan was, Prashant and few of his cohorts will be given some role in the Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister himself was receptive to this idea. But their bonhomie didn't last long. Prashant wasn't assimilated to the power structure in Delhi. After falling out with Modi, it seems like he had embarked on a mission to take revenge on BJP.
Since 2015, he has been providing his service to different anti-BJP forces across the country. Nitish Kumar, once the arch nemesis of Modi roped Prashant in to take on BJP in 2015. Within just a year of winning India, BJP's formidable election machinery failed to win Bihar. As the BJP had no local face to take on Nitish Kumar, they were riding back on the popularity of Modi. But Prashant's team created a slogan, to which BJP had no reply- 'Bihari or Bahari'.
After Bihar, Prashant went to Panjab to aid Captain Amarinder Singh's bid to power. Staving off a spirited fight from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Cpt. Amarinder came victorious. Since 2015 wherever he went - Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bengal- almost every time he ended up being in the winning side. The only rare blot in his career is 2017 Uttar Pradesh Legislative Election, where he was tasked to strategise for Indian National Congress. But the self-assured hubris of the stalwart in the Grand Old Party resisted the changes he was suggesting. Needless to mention, Congress suffered a drubbing by BJP in that election.
Why do political parties need people like Prashant Kishor?
In any run-up to election, political parties need to assess the ground reality objectively. Based on these assessments, the party fields candidates and creates slogans. Prashant and his team start their work at this stage. For example, in Bengal they collected information from across the state. They have experienced people on their side to conduct such surveys.
After analysing the result, they found that an anti-incumbency was prevailing in Bengal but by and large Mamata was still the tallest figure. They launched a programme called 'Didi ke Bolo'. People had grievances against the local leader of TMC. Mamata urged the people to communicate their grievances directly to her and assured speedy redressal to them.
Prashant's data driven approach essentially helped to identify the right issue before the poll. Whenever Prashant is asked about his Midas touch, he self-effacingly replies that they are highly overrated. Elections are fought and won by party cadres and they just help parties on the margin.
But surely the margin is getting bigger. The fact that politicians are outsourcing the work of strategising elections to outsiders is leading to corporatisation of parties. Data analytics, targeted campaigning, using numerous alternative channels to reach the electorate have become sine qua non of electioneering.
Thus young and talented people without any ideological allegiance to the party are sidelining the ideologically sound old faces of the party. This became evident when many of the prominent faces left Mamata citing their disappointment regarding Prashant Kishor. But Mamata took all these in stride and got the result in her favour.
Prashant Kishor is leaving the space. But to defeat BJP on national level a Pan-Indian approach is needed. Who else than Prashant is better positioned to stitch a grand alliance against Modi in 2024?
He had fought and stopped the Modi juggernaut in different parts of the country. But so far, he has been doing it for others. Probably it is time he launched his own political outfit to claim his share of power.
Syed Sadman Sadiq is a political observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.