Prashant Kishor’s ‘other’ claim: forming government in Bihar next year

PK’s meltdown in video interviews this week has largely eclipsed his claim that he will instal a new government in Bihar next year

Prashant Kishor (file photo)
Prashant Kishor (file photo)

Soroor Ahmed

These days, election strategist Prashant Kishor is often asked how he reached the conclusion that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is returning to power, especially after his meltdown when, in a video interview, host Karan Thapar pointed out that PK's predictions had been proved wrong in the Himachal Pradesh and Telangana Assembly elections.

Nobody, however, is asking him on what basis he has claimed that Jan Suraaj, the party which he founded with others two-and-a-half years ago, will form the government on its own post-2025 Assembly elections in Bihar, a claim PK made to not just Karan Thapar, but also India Today.

While his assessment that Narendra Modi was returning to power for the third time, possibly with an even higher number of seats, hogged the headlines, his claim about his outfit forming a government on its own next year has not received the attention it deserves.

He did not specify who the chief minister would be, but rejected outright the idea of Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav succeeding the incumbent Nitish Kumar; nor did he clarify whether he himself would be content to remain kingmaker or intended to be king.

While predicting a BJP victory in the Lok Sabha elections, he claimed he was basing his observations on his experience of politics, and common sense; or as a self-appointed and ambitious poll strategist, as his critics put it. However, when he claimed that his outfit would win the Bihar Assembly election due in October-November 2025, he was clearly speaking as an interested party. With politicians often making tall claims, it came as no surprise that his claim found no takers even in friendly media.

As the founder of Jan Suraaj, which has never contested an election, how can he so boldly claim that his party will win the elections in just about 17 months from now? Many seasoned politicians with far greater experience have paid the price for misplaced overconfidence.

Even in this ongoing election, notwithstanding what PK says, there is a mismatch between the BJP’s overconfidence in January, when the election had appeared to be a one-sided affair, and at the end of May, when it looks more evenly poised.

It is true that in the last two-and-a-half years, PK has ‘walked’ across half the villages in his home state, leading the march for jan suraaj. It is by all accounts an impressive political movement, which involves an advance party of volunteers setting up camps, mobilising local youth, organising various activities and competitions for children, and arranging sports activites. They set up the meeting in large villages where the primary founder member addresses the people and gives interviews to YouTubers.

He is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, PK says, and is trying to repay his debt to his home state. Bihar has suffered because of its poor caste-based politics, he repeats, exhorting people to vote keeping in mind the future of their children. If you vote for money or caste or a temple, that is what you will get, he tells them.

He begins his addresses by telling people that he is a nobody and has no ‘power’. He was candid in telling interviewers that the outfit would contest the 2025 Assembly elections. Evasive about his sources of funding, he would say that those he had helped in his career as a political consultant were now 'helping' him.

He was credited with scripting the victory of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan in the 2015 Assembly elections, against the BJP. The previous year, he was said to have been instrumental in orchestrating Narendra Modi’s spectacular rise to become the prime minister. Since then, he has worked for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in Bengal, and M.K. Stalin's DMK in Tamil Nadu. 

He certainly likes to crunch data, and to call other political leaders ‘idiots’. However, though PK may have visited hundreds of villages and interacted with the masses, does such a march provide any guarantee of electoral
success? Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has undertaken two such all-India yatras, longer and far more arduous, and yet nobody can say with certainty whether the Congress has benefitted.

The fact is that Jan Suraaj is a one-man show. If the BJP, with all its resources and cadre in every nook and corner of India, misjudged the mood of the people in 2004, can PK be so sure of victory?

His interviews also seem to have been a miscalculation. While he may have sought to use the media to amplify what he is attempting to do in Bihar, TV channels were more interested in his views on the national elections. His claims did create a stir, but his statement about Jan Suraaj was brushed aside, and has actually dented his image even back in Bihar.

In the Lok Sabha polls of April-May 2004, the RJD-Congress-Lok Janashakti Party scored a big victory in the state. The Janata Dal (United) and BJP together won only 11 of 40 seats. Lalu Prasad Yadav became the Union railway minister in the first Manmohan Singh government (2004-09).

Political analysts hailed Lalu Prasad's performance, and some went on to predict that the February-March 2005 Assembly elections were a done deal. But the done deal threw up a hung Assembly, necessitating another election later in the year. Exactly 17 months after the Lok Sabha polls, Nitish Kumar sprang a surprise and became chief minister in November 2005. In politics, 17 months is a long time.

One has every right to live in a fool’s paradise, but one should not underestimate the collective wisdom of the masses. It is not easy to win the trust of the people, or PK may have been influenced by the Arvind Kejriwal phenomenon, when in just four years since founding his party April 2011, he had become chief minister of Delhi by 2015.

Bihar, however, is not Delhi. It is a much bigger state, and its population six times larger. Moreover, the ground-work for Kejriwal was done by the Anna Hazare movement, which received support from almost all sections of society. Kejriwal was no poll strategist like Kishor, but an activist who had worked in Delhi for decades.

PK, who does not have a single kind word to say about the same Nitish Kumar who made him the vice-president of JD(U), has not clearly stated if he expects the current coalition government comprising BJP-JD(U) and LJP to last till October 2025. What he has clearly stated is that Jan Suraaj will form a government on its own. He has also not clarified if the BJP in that case will be his principal rival and whether he expects the RJD to melt away and the JD(U) to merge with Jan Suraaj!

He needs to clear the air and also clarify what made him hop from one TV studio to another predicting a BJP victory if he is now a wannabe political leader.

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