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Prashant Kishor: The bet that cost Congress too dear!

Friday, March 17, 2017
By Bharatkumar Raut

Nothing succeeds like success while failure is pushed into a dark lurch with no one ready to stand by it. Prashant Kishor, the boy wonder of Indian politics, must be having the same painful experience with the deep fall of the Samajwadi-Congress Alliance in the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly elections. Until Friday night, he was sending messages to his close friends stating that the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance would not get less than 190 seats, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would end up with less than 150 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) below 70. He was also talking about how he would end up with a spotless track record of 3-0 in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, given what he had managed to achieve during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with Narendra Modi and later with the grand alliance of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.

Come Saturday morning though, Kishor has not been responding to messages even as the verdict in Uttar Pradesh gets clearer. He did not respond to calls made by many newspapers, TV channels and news agencies seeking a response either. This is because Kishor has fallen flat on his face as the Congress, his valuable client exhibited a poor show in the UP and Uttarakhand elections on one hand and on the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out with a historically superb performance to clinch both the state s with a mammoth majority and margin. All predictions and strategies drawn by Kishor have proved to be wrong and actually helped the BJP win the elections comfortably.

Prashant had no role in Punjab
It can be argued that failure in one election may not be the end of the road for poll strategist Prashant Kishor, but the verdict in UP does cast a shadow on his future and his efforts at strategizing for a Congress win. On the other hand, Punjab, where the Congress has come out with flying colours and where Kishor played the role of a strategist, has been a saving grace. However, many agree that the Punjab win for Congress is more to do with Captain Amarinder Singh than with Kishor or the Congress party itself. The credit of the unprecedented Punjab victory is largely attributed to the relentless efforts by Amarinder Singh, an ex-Army-man and former Chief Minister of the state. It is true that Kishor played a very little role in strategizing Punjab campaign and even Congress Boss Vice President Rahul Gandhi also did not interfere in the Punjab matters. Rahul and his newly recognized 'party star' sister Priyanka hardly participated in the Punjab campaign and thus the field was left open to Amarinder Singh, who lived up to the expectations. This is because Amarinder Singh was working hard for the last two and half years and had combed each district of Punjab. Had this strategy played in UP and the local leadership of the state was asked to shoulder the responsibility, the picture could have been slightly better. Perhaps went BJP way, where all responsibilities were pinned on one 'poster boy' - Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That strategy did not work in UP.

All strategies planned and executed by Kishor started faltering right from day one.  Beginning with the announcement of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as the chief ministerial candidate of UP and later joining hands with the SP,  Kishor’s appointment itself caused troubles within the Congress with most local leaders complaining of being left out of the strategizing part. While he may not have been the sole strategist in Uttar Pradesh, insiders said, he had a huge role in shaping the game plan. But the fact that he worked for 18 months for the Congress party was instrumental in forming the alliance with SP. This turned out to be a colossal mistake as on one hand, he was trying to project Sheila Dikshit a Brahmin as Chief Ministerial candidate and at the same time offering hand of friendship with SP that is predominantly a lower-caste and Muslim voters. This combination was not only confusing but also suggests that Kishor got his maths wrong, for once.

Here one must admit that Kishor had an uphill and near impossible task to make the Congress win in the UP. Congress, egged on by Kishor, was betting electorally in UP against heavy odds. It won only two of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 16th general election, and has been out of power in UP for 27 years. The last time it secured a double-digit vote share in UP was in the 1993 assembly election. Kishor’s plan centered on the Gandhis, along with a development narrative around former Delhi CM Dikshit. Besides, he fashioned a high decibel and populist farmer-centric campaign, getting Rahul Gandhi to anchor a nearly month-long kisan yatra. This also proved to be futile as neither Rahul could not associate himself with the plight of the rural population nor the farmers recognized him as 'their leader'. His attire of snow-white kurta and jeans did not gel well with the life and plight of the debt-hit poor farmers. He really did not have the idea of farmers' and peasants' aspirations and frustrations. In short, his Kisan Yatra, planned by Kishor turned out to be a damn squib and became a 'national joke'.

An Uphill Task
A native of Bihar, Kishor was earlier working as a health expert for a programme of the United Nations in Africa, until he returned to India and joined the election campaign of Modi. He is credited with organizing the popular “Chai Pe Charcha” campaign for Modi. After 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kishor turned sides and went to the camp of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. The success followed him there also and his concept of 'Maha Gatabandhan' (Larger Alliance) between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, played a huge dividend. Nitish Kumar retained power in Bihar and left the BJP in the lurch. However, the 2014 Lok Sabha success was largely due to the unprecedented 'Modi Wave all over the nation, while in Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad were the larger than life leaders at the helm of the affairs. In the absence of local leadership to fight from the front in UP, Kishor's strategy failed and failed miserably.

Kishor, 38, has age on his side and he will only get better. But on the other side, the damage that has been subjected to the Congress in UP and Uttarakhand has caused irreparable damage to the oldest national party and would take at least a decade, if not more, to come out of it. This is price that the Congress paid to steal Kishor from down under BJP's nose.

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