There is a lot at stake in the Bengal assembly elections but nothing will be tested quite as decisively as Prashant Kishore’s reputation as a political strategist. Prashant owes all his fame and fortune to the election campaigns he has managed for various clients and so far, he has gotten all kinds of results too. With BJP’s 2014 campaign, Indian National Congress’ 2017 campaign of UP and Punjab along with Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party’s 2019 campaign in his portfolio, he has witnessed almost all possibilities other than a closely fought election. For any campaign strategist the close battles are always the most important to win if they want undisputed credit, which is different from unparalleled PR.
At this stage almost everyone believes that Bengal is being fought closely. The kind of noise the BJP is generating at this stage does not bode well for an incumbent known to violently silence its opponents. Most of their supporters were expected to vote in complete silence and secrecy, for the simple fear of retribution and hence the clatter is only a bonus they wouldn’t have been counting upon at the onset. The noise means their supporters are not only keen on voting for the BJP, but they are also certain about a favourable result. Behind Suvendu Adhikari has followed a tribe of more visible and audible bunch of supporters, who are more infectious than one would have thought and yet there will always be many more who will not be vocal about their opinion, especially if they seek change. It is for this reason that the BJP is certain to score more than it is able to show for itself in any of its rallies or opinion polls.
It is Prashant’s job to ensure that the quantum of silent votes is not going to be enough for them to cross the line and end Mamata’s rule of Bengal. The national party, on the other hand, is once again contesting an assembly election in a state with insurmountable cultural pride, without a local face to show for itself. Yet, the amount of screen time their star campaigner or rather campaigner-in-chief - Narendra Modi - is harnessing is certainly more than he has in the past few years for any assembly election and perhaps even the most ever since he came to power in 2014. They usually don’t do that unless they are extremely hopeful about the results and hence this says a lot about their own internal projections. There is absolutely no attempt here to find a Kiran Bedi to be made a scapegoat, in case of an unfavourable outcome.
Ever since Mamata Banerjee decided to step up against Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, it became clear that both sides have come out all guns blazing and ‘Khela Nischai Hobe’. But about that slogan, Khela Hobe’, has beautifully caught the nation’s attention and it is brilliant in that sense. So it is understandable how lucrative it must have been to come out with that war cry to boost party morale, but whose job was it to stop and question if ‘Khela Hobe’ which loosely translates to ‘we are not going down without a fight’; is the proper exclamation for a defender or a challenger?
If anything, it answers doubts about the BJP’s viability as challenger. Any psephologist, worth his or her salt, would begin their research with studying viability perceived by the constituents for all parties involved because people are in fact willing to switch their votes in favour of somebody who has an actual chance of winning as against someone who they think is better suited for the job.
In one of our own surveys, 29 per cent people in Urban Jaipur were ready to switch, based on viability. Basically, nobody is taking you seriously until you’ve proven and demonstrated your viability and fortunately for the BJP, the stamp of approval came straight from the horse’s mouth. Even in his leaked clubhouse chat, Prashant Kishor is seen arguing that an overall majority of their survey participants and especially about two-thirds of the people voting for the Communists believe that the election belongs to the BJP. With nearly 80 per cent voter turnout, Bengal is a place where predictions are supposed to work more accurately than a place with 60 per cent or lower turnout because here, you don’t have to factor in if a disproportionate number of your survey respondents are not getting out to vote at all.
All things said, the elections are far from over yet and when the fight is perceived this close, one should hope that both the camps have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Prashant, for one, should take lesson in the fact that even in his comprehensive victory in Punjab, if we isolated the seats decided by less than 3 per cent margin, the BJP-Akali alliance managed seven against INC’s eight seats while the Aam Aadmi Party managed six. This is staggering considering they only managed a total of 18 seats out of the total 117 contested at a strike rate of mere 15 per cent.
For PK, more than the overall results, the glory in these elections lies in winning those close battles because that is where his prowess in managing the electorate should thrive under the given circumstances. This is where he should be able to dig in and test BJP’s will and capability to triumph in Bengal. He had no shortage of time or resources knowing very well that his clients have everything at stake here and once the campaign machinery rolls out, no quarter will be asked and none shall be given on either end.