What is election strategist Prashant Kishor's own political future in Bihar?
His political ambition is no longer a secret. But his political future looks as yet uncertain. Can he really transform Bihar, questions Arun Sinha
In recent weeks, Prashant Kishor, the election strategist has been making predictions about the future of political parties—indeed, the future of Indian politics itself ! But what about the future of the political party he is planning to launch? He has refrained from crystal gazing and predicting the future of his own party so far.
In his new avatar he has descended in Bihar, where he is not talking of transforming India. He is talking of transforming Bihar. Why Bihar? Bihar is at the bottom of all indices, he says. He wants to haul it out of the marshland. And, also because it is his home state. He obviously believes he can connect with Biharis more easily as a politician than he can with people in another state.
But is there space for him? Is there space for a new political party in overcrowded Bihar? The three leading parties—the Janata Dal (United), the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal—occupy 99 percent of the political space. There have been minor parties —the Hindustani Awam Party, the Lok Janshakti Party, Vikassheel Insaan Party, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen—but the they have mostly served as prey to the three major parties. Where will Kishor’s party get in?
There is an even more fundamental thing to ponder for him. The three major parties were not founded out of thin air. They came out of movements. The RJD and JD(U) came out of the socialist movement. The BJP came out of the Hindutva movement. Though Congress and Left parties are on the margins in the state, they too came out of people’s movements.
The minor parties however originated in perceived grievances of a particular caste or community. LJP and HAM drew sustenance from the support of sections of the Dalits, the VIP of the Mallahs, the RLSP of the Kushwahas and the AIMIM of the Muslims.
There are thus two models of political parties in Bihar—one based on people’s movement, another on caste-specific mobilisation. Which one will Prashant Kishor follow? Obviously not the caste-specific one. For, his mission is to bring prosperity to Bihar, not to his caste.
Not going for the caste-specific model is also his compulsion. Because he comes from a higher caste, and higher castes in Bihar have never encouraged caste-specific organisations in electoral politics. They have backed the Congress or the BJP and negotiated their issues invisibly with them.
Will Kishor then follow the movement-based model? He has given no such indication. However, he has announced that he will start a 3000- km padyatra starting from the Gandhi Ashram in Champaran on the Mahatma’s birthday to meet people in every nook and corner of Bihar. Being a great political salesman, he knows the value in public imagery of the association of his new political venture with the legacy of Gandhi.
But a symbolic association alone would not win him much traction with the voters. Every political party swears by the legacy of Gandhi but does not go beyond symbolism. Kishor could make a difference if he works to build up a movement to achieve his aim—Jan Suraaj, People’s Good Governance—in Gandhi’s determined, unwavering, selfless, immune-to-suffering style.
Is he capable of doing that? As of today, the answer is no. Even if he were to announce he was going to lead a movement for good governance, the masses might not be tempted to join him, for nobody knows what his ideology is. Is he a Gandhian? Is he a Socialist? Is he a Marxist? Does he subscribe to the Congress ideology? Is he a Hindu nationalist?
Once or twice in interviews he has said that ideologically he considers himself “closer to the centre-left”. But he has never explained his political ideas beyond that. His history suggests he does not have a clear political line. When he was JD(U) vice president, he said in an interview that he had joined the party because he felt ‘connected’ to its ideology. He praised Nitish Kumar, the chief ideologue of the party and the Chief Minister of Bihar, to no end. He even worked for two years to recruit youth to the JD(U). Then a few weeks ago, he nearly joined the Congress. Where does he belong in the world of systems of political ideas?
Not that leaders who belonged to no established political ideology have not led mass movements. Jayaprakash Narayan led the 1974 movement. Anna Hazare led the anti-corruption movement. But they had their own political convictions. Prashant Kishor has neither their stature nor any ideology.
All he has is his stature and reputation as an election strategist. And that can prove more of a liability than an asset to him unless he does two things. One, he has to present himself as a man with a clear ideology. Then people will find it easier to politically place him and support him or oppose him. Two, he has to build up a mass campaign to build up a mass base. The AAP came up that way, and so had the All Assam Students Union.
Bihar has been a laboratory of mass movements and political ideas. If Prashant Kishor takes the route of mass movement, he could hope to start winning room in the crowded political space in Bihar. But if he takes the election route, beguiled by his illusion that he knows the magic formula for winning elections, we should be getting ready for an epitaph that reads, “Here lies the man who won elections and lost them.”
(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and the author of the book ‘Battle for Bihar’. Views are personal)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)