Prashant Kishor teaming up with Modi for 2019 general elections reeks of desperation
If the political strategist realigns with BJP, then it will be nothing less than a marriage of survival.
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The world of politics is noisy. Political strategists claim to build brands and vice versa. However, I have always believed that strategists can’t build brands unless the brand itself has some value.
Coming from a marketing and branding background, I have no qualms in saying that no marketing strategist can sell a bad product. Quite similarly, no political party’s fortune can be changed by a political strategist if the party lacks value.
Of late, the media is busy speculating Prashant Kishor’s possible "ghar wapsi" to the BJP to help Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Prashant Kishor is the same political strategist who rose to popularity with BJP’s 2014 victory. For almost a year, after Congress’ drubbing in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, the man was lying low and is now back in the news.
Claim to fame
In 2012, Prashant Kishor became a part of BJP’s Gujarat campaign with just a handful of people in his team. He claimed that his team projected Narendra Modi as the face of good governance in the 2012 Gujarat Assembly polls. What he failed to acknowledge was that Modi was already a brand name and a three-time chief minister in Gujarat.
In 2013, Kishor hired people from India’s premier institutes and multinational companies to form Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG). He worked on Modi’s 2014 election campaign, and the party won. A countrywide "Modi wave" swept the nation, and Kishor took no time to steal the BJP’s thunder by singing praises of his team.
The BJP’s unprecedented win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections made Prashant Kishor an overnight star as media took no time to make him a political household name.
But if one analyses Kishore’s six years of political career, it’s a typical example of the 80/20 rule with 20 per cent of the work he has done, and 80 per cent media hype. The man has always built those who were already established. Those who say that Kishor was responsible for building Brand Modi, they fail to realise that Modi has always been a big brand, even in 2012. But, if anyone has actually helped Modi create a larger than life image, then it has to be the Congress and the Congress alone - as it is only because of the UPA’s 10 years rule and Congress party’s mistakes that made Modi the phenomenon he became. Hence, the credit for making Modi a heavyweight goes to the Congress, not to any strategist.
It often happens that what we see in the media differs from the reality, and Prashant Kishor’s much-hyped success is a typical case of that. I spoke to two ex-senior members of Prashant Kishor’s old team that handled Modi’s campaign in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Nitish Kumar’s campaign in the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, and Congress’ campaign in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections.
These sources revealed a lot of key information about Prashant Kishor, all on condition of anonymity.
I asked one of these former senior members of his team the truth about Kishor being the one who made Modi win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and he laughed, claiming it to be an exaggeration. He said that the team did play a role, but it was a minuscule role; Modi was destined to come. The role of team Prashant Kishor was limited to five campaigns that they ran for Modi: Manthan Youth Campaign, the Statue of Unity (where Modi invoked Sardar Patel), Chai Pe Charcha, 3D Rallies and Bharat Vijay Rally.
And about the social media strategies of Narendra Modi and the BJP, he cleared the air by stating that Narendra Modi’s social media was being managed by a different team, and the BJP’s social media was being managed by the party’s IT cell in Delhi. All that Prashant Kishor’s team did in this sphere was to identify 300 constituencies where the then Gujarat CM Modi’s appeal was high and created 300 Facebook pages and websites to multiply that appeal.
Thus, if the BJP’s 2014 history victory is attributed to harnessing Modi’s and BJP’s social media power, then there was hardly any role played by Prashant Kishor.
Prashant Kishor and the RSS
Prashant Kishor has always maintained that he is ideologically agnostic. However, he has a deep-rooted RSS background. The 200-people team that he created to help Modi win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, comprised of more than 90 per cent of those members who were ideologically attached to the BJP. They joined hands together with a single mission - to make Modi the country’s PM.
I was told by Prashant Kishor's former team members that they have always enjoyed more support from the RSS functionaries. Even, Prashant Kishor was liked more by the RSS and not by the BJP organisation. The affection that Kishor had from the Sangh continues to be there thus far.
Trouble in paradise
The same media that showered praises on Prashant Kishor after the BJP’s 2014 triumph, snubbed him after the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections. But, the trouble in Prashant Kishor’s paradise started brewing soon after the BJP’s 2014 win.
Following the 2014 elections, Kishor’s differences with Amit Shah made him part ways with the BJP. However, not many know that Narendra Modi wanted to retain Kishor, and he did offer him minister of state position in the PMO. Prashant Kishor, on the other hand, wanted to set up a specialist policy outfit to counsel the Prime Minister on development.
A former member of the team said that it was an unfair demand on the part of Kishor and he was being greedy. The team knew that they were not competent enough to counsel the prime minister on development. Subsequently, the first fallout within the team happened. As the team was formed majorly of people who were ideologically inclined towards Narendra Modi, they felt that the mission they had was accomplished with Modi becoming the PM of the nation. But, Prashant Kishor wanted more. The internal conflicts, thus, dropped team CAG’s tally to 150 as 50 people left Prashant Kishor.
After that, Kishor joined Nitish Kumar in 2015 and forged a successful "mahagathbandhan" in Bihar, bringing Nitish Kumar to power, and trumping the BJP-led NDA. It is important to note here that Prashant Kishor was never anti-Modi. As told to me by a senior journalist about a year and a half ago and confirmed by the two former colleagues of Kishor - he has always been emotionally attached and connected to Narendra Modi. The only reason why Prashant Kishor joined Modi’s opposition in Bihar was to show Modi his true worth. These former team members of Prashant Kishor, Bihar elections for them was more for defeating Modi and less for making Nitish Kumar the CM. It was more of an obsession for Prashant Kishor to defeat Modi as he knew that for Modi the Bihar election was the biggest test after 2014.
As a matter of fact, the Nitish Kumar campaign was started with the prime focus on getting Modi’s attention. Prashant Kishor’s team did a recce of the entire state to find those areas where PM’s attention will go during his contour. These were the places where catchy hoardings containing slogans like "Jhanse mein na aayenge, Nitish ko jitayenge" were placed.
Besides this, when Modi attacked Nitish Kumar at a rally with the remark that there is some “problem with Nitish Kumar’s DNA”, 50 lakh people of Bihar sent their samples to Modi for a DNA test. Luck favored Prashant, and the "grand alliance" won the Bihar elections, and Prashant was succesful in impressing the then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Captain Amarinder Singh.
Once again, media forgot that it was more of caste-based politics that helped Nitish won the elections, not Prashant Kishor.
Modi sold 'achhe din' to the nation, Prashant Kishor sold 'achhe din' to Congress
For someone like Captain Amarinder Singh, who had already lost two elections in Punjab and was worried about AAP’s rising admiration in the state, the 2017 election was a do or die battle. Soon, Prashant Kishor was hired by Congress for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Assembly elections. During the same time, I wrote a piece that "Why pinning electoral hopes on a consultant can be a huge mistake for the Congress". UP’s disastrous result in March 2017 proved my belief that strategists alone can’t win the battles for political parties.
My source also told me that shortly after Bihar elections, 20 people left Prashant Kishor as they were not ready to work for Congress due to ideological reasons. This team later joined Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP. But those who joined Congress did so only because Kishor believed in working for well-built brands - take Modi, Nitish and Amarinder Singh, for example. Moreover, for team Prashant Kishor it was important to defeat the AAP in Punjab. With the AAP rising to fame with the help of people of the same age group and almost similar social media strategies and new age marketing techniques that team Prashant Kishor had, fighting for Punjab was more of a personal battle for Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC).
The final fall of team Prashant Kishor came just after the defeat in UP elections when Congress had its worst tally of seven seats in the state. After this, when Prashant Kishor moved to south India to join Jagan Reddy, 45-50 people quit the team as they were not comfortable working in the south, leaving the comfort of being in the north of India, the Hindi heartland and also the credibility of the brand was at an all-time low.
Currently, Prashant Kishor’s team has approximately 100 people, out of which 80 are new recruits. This team has only five members who were a part of the BJP 2014 campaign and 15 members who were a part of the Nitish Kumar’s 2015 campaign.
People who left the CAG after 2014, formed Association of Brilliant Minds (ABM) which joined the BJP for its 2017 Uttar Pradesh campaign and also supporting the central leadership of the BJP. Another team formed Action for Collective Transformation (ACT) and is working with Maharashtra’s chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis.
Will Prashant Kishor join the BJP soon?
The original team Prashant Kishore is already scattered with many of them having returned to the BJP and working for the saffron party in various capacities, and if Prashant Kishor joins the BJP, then it will only be his "ghar wapsi".
In the wake of the defeat in the UP election in March 2017, the Congress stopped using Prashant Kishor’s services, and soon after, the mahagathbandhan of Bihar broke. Ever wondered if Prashant Kishor played a role in that breakup of the grand alliance? And now that Prashant Kishor has joined YSR’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, for his Andhra Pradesh campaign, Reddy too has hinted at his inclination to strike an alliance with the BJP.
It’s like whatever Prashant Kishor does, directly or indirectly, it is for the BJP’s benefit. Perhaps, he can’t take Modi out of his heart.
Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC is already on the lookout for office space in NCR for 2019 national campaign and his former colleague told me that in the last one year, Kishor has only made six visits to Andhra Pradesh on Jaganmohan Reddy’s campaign. He has asked his team to start preparing for the national campaign. Now, the national campaign can only be with either the Congress or the BJP.
Now, if Prashant Kishor does a shake hands with Narendra Modi again, then it will be nothing less than a marriage of survival as both Modi and Kishor are going through a rough phase.
Modi’s waning popularity and Kishor's recent fallouts indicate that they need each other. Whether their paths will meet again or not is yet to be seen.