Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is steering the ship of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in Bengal and MK Stalin’s DMK in Tamil Nadu to help them win the assembly elections. Kishor is the man of the moment even as he heads for Punjab next to professionally manage Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh’s next assembly campaign.
Kishor first came into limelight when he decided to anchor Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial campaign in 2014, which he successfully did. Since then, Kishor has been a busy man. Amarinder Singh, Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Jagan Mohan Reddy… he has been drafting the political strategies of many big names.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Kishor explained what works in Bengal, the Modi factor, Mamata Banerjee’s influence and the importance of Scheduled Caste votes and many more.
The strategist says the battle for Bengal is essentially a fight between Mamata and Modi and that the people who recently switched sides won’t create any big impact.
Kishor said the election in Bengal is one of its kind because it is for the first time that a national party (BJP) has posed a serious challenge to a regional power (TMC). “So far, the state has seen regional parties (earlier the Left and then Trinamool) dominate the scene. This is the first time that Bengal is witnessing a regional ruling party being challenged by a national ruling party, which is out there to win at any cost,” Kishor told The Indian Express.
Had there been no big national party in the fray, the media hype would have been less. “So you see the media is more interested in Bengal than Tamil Nadu. Does it not justify my point?” he said.
Kishor said he sticks by his earlier claim that the BJP will not cross double digits in Bengal. “In our assessment, they (BJP) would struggle to enter triple digits, and I stand by that remark. If they do, I will cease to exist as a political aide to anyone,” he said once again.
BJP’s 5-point agenda
Prashant Kishor said the BJP had a five-point programme to win Bengal polls. Firstly, polarisation. Yes, they have polarized the polls, but have they done enough to win 60% of the majority community (Hindu) votes? This will be a deciding factor.
Secondly, discredit Mamata Banerjee. The BJP is banking on anti-incumbency against the Mamata Banerjee government. “By and large, Mamata didi remains popular; whatever resentment exists mainly against local TMC leaders,” said Kishor.
He said the TMC is working towards regaining its lost ground at the local level. “About 60% of the block presidents are now new. More than 80 MLAs have been dropped. All those things, I hope, have contributed to mitigate some of the people’s anger, if there was any,” he said.
Third, ensure TMC as a political entity collapses. By poaching TMC’s local leaders, the BJP has tried to create an impression that there is mass exodus from the Trinamool. “They (the BJP) used all means to poach people, and they have been successful in getting say 30-odd MLAs and MPs… it is a big deal for a regional party like Trinamool, but it’s not a collapse of the party,” said Kishor.
Fourth, get support of the Scheduled Castes. In the 2019 lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 19 seats mainly banking on the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which was an issue of great significance for the Namasudras and Matuas, and the SC community as a whole. However, the by-elections that followed in Bengal show the BJP’s SC base is weakening, observed Kishor. “Since then the BJP is shying away from playing up CAA,” the poll strategist said.
Fifth, Modi’s popularity. “I must admit he (Modi) is quite popular… He is probably the most popular BJP leader. (But in Bengal) He is not more popular than ‘didi’,” said Kishor.
The Suvendu factor
On turncoat Suvendu Adhikari’s veiled attack against him, alleging that “Mamata doesn’t run the TMC”, Kishor said, “A lot of people say ‘didi’ is no longer running the party. My argument is Mr Amit Shah runs the BJP. All the decisions of organisation and otherwise are taken by him. But can we say that Mr Modi is not running the BJP? Didi is the core of the Trinamool, there is no Trinamool without Mamata Banerjee. She is not a part-time politician; she is there 24/7.”
On Suvendu Adhikari’s ouster from the party, the poll strategist said, “Suvendu Adhikari was a powerful Trinamool leader. He has said on stage that he has been in touch with the BJP since 2014. Now, if you are advising the Trinamool and you know this fact, what would you say? You would say that please get rid of these people.”
On Mamata’s sub-national pride, declaring herself as Bengali and labeling Amit Shah and Modi as ‘outsiders’, Kishore said that if the BJP thinks Ram or Hindi will national identity, which is beneficial for the party, it should do it. “If somebody thinks that I’m a Bengali or a Tamilian — is going to help, then they are entitled to use it. If Mr Modi says during state elections in Gujarat that ‘I am son of Gujarat’, he will definitely have a natural advantage in Gujarat. So I don’t see what’s wrong if Mamata Didi says ‘I am the daughter of Bengal’?” Kishor reasoned.
On BJP’s prospects in Bengal this time, Kishore said the party has failed to present a positive narrative. “You say ‘didi’s’ government has not delivered, but the BJP has not presented any alternative agenda either,” he said.
Will the Modi Magic work once again? “BJP’s 2019 Lok Sabha performance can be attributed to Modi’s popularity, but the downward trend (in Assembly poll results) since 2014 is quite evident. The Prime Minister’s ability to transfer votes is probably starting to go down a little bit,” Kishor said.
When asked how professional services rendered by groups like his work better for political parties, Kishor said, “It is not that parties have lost faith in their own feedback mechanisms… (At the) End of the day, it is the politician who makes the decision.”
Explaining the famous ‘Khela hobe’ (game is on) slogan, Kishor said it is part of BJP’s plan to create psychological fear just before the polls. “So Amit Shah comes and claims ‘Didi’ is gone despite knowing very well that BJP only has 3 MLAs this time. You give up without fighting. Hence, we are saying game on (Khela hobe),” he said.