The importance of being Prashant Kishor in Kolkata
As the enigmatic political strategist supervises preparation for the make-or-break election for Mamata Banerjee, several initiatives for better governance are believed to be taken at his advice
He seems to be as involved in Tamil Nadu as in West Bengal. Dividing his attention between the two states, the election strategist who is rarely seen or heard finds himself being talked about a lot more.
In the last seven years, Prashant Kishor or PK as he is called in political circles, has worked with Narendra Modi in the 2014 election, with Nitish Kumar in 2015 and subsequently with Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and now with DMK leader MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. His only failure so far has been the UP election of 2017 when he worked with INC.
It was after the electoral setback in the Lok Sabha election in 2019 that Mamata Banerjee felt the need of a dispassionate outsider to assess the political situation on the ground. By all available accounts, she was told bluntly that there was strong anti-incumbency on the ground against local Trinamool workers and MLAs. Several initiatives for better governance are believed to have been taken at Kishor’s suggestion.
Starting with the ‘Didi Ke Bolo’ (Tell Didi) campaign inviting people to directly communicate their grievances to the chief minister, the last two years have seen initiatives like ‘Duare Sarkar’ (Government at your doorstep), ‘Samadhan’ (Solution), ‘Swashya Saathi’ and the canteens providing rice and egg curry for five rupees.
PK’s team is also believed to have prepared extensive ground reports on the image, popularity and work of MLAs and other leaders. A large number of sitting MLAs were found wanting (TMC has 211 MLAs in the 294-member House) and have reportedly been informed that they would not be given the party ticket this time. This did trigger an exodus from the party and initially BJP gleefully inducted many of them in the party.
Several sitting MLAs resented being told that they would be dropped by ‘PK’s team’. They expected the chief minister herself to communicate the bad news. But receiving the information from youngsters with no stake in the state’s politics rankled with many.
Conscious that BJP has successfully created and cultivated the perception that Mamata Banerjee is in trouble, PK’s team appears to have consciously decided to make her the face of the party. It is her popularity among people and the unfair treatment by a strong Centre are the twin talking points in West Bengal today.
Mamata Banerjee has countered the political slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with her slogan of ‘Jai Siya Ram’, telling people that BJP has not been quite respectful of Sita. Building up on the image of Mamata Banerjee, the lone woman chief minister in the country, pitted against the resources of the BJP and agencies with the central government, Kishor’s team has neutralized BJP’s edge to a great extent.
Possibly in no previous election in the state has caste played such an important role. Political pundits seldom, if ever, discussed castes and ethnic groups as vote blocks in the past. But Gorkhas, Adivasis, Matuas, Rajbongshis—all of them having sub castes and groupings—are being wooed in this election like never before. The RSS, which has for long worked among West Bengal’s Adivasis, is waking up to the reality that many Adivasis do not consider themselves to be Hindus.
Similarly, it is a myth to believe that Muslims vote for Mamata Banerjee en bloc. In several North Bengal districts, they have been voting for the Congress and other parties.
PK’s methodical work on the ground, the strict time table that his team is made to follow and constant monitoring of both government schemes and political rivals on the ground have seldom been so intense. A greater sense of discipline, direction and purpose is what PK and his team seem to have contributed.
So, as the enigmatic political strategist supervises the preparation for the make-or-break election from his sprawling office in Salt Lake City, BJP can take nothing for granted.
(As told to AJ Prabal. Jayanta Ghoshal is a senior political commentator)