From devising a seat-sharing formula for the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar for the 2019 Lok Sabha election to wooing young voters, the former poll strategist has ensured his position as number 2 within the party.
Satyavrat Mishra reports.
When poll strategist-turned-politician Prashant Kishor joined the Janata Dal-United last month in the presence of the media, he was sitting beside party president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. “He is the future, I tell you,” said a jubilant Kumar, looking at Kishor, who smiled back.
The unusual introductory remarks made Kishor’s role explicitly clear to the old guard. Within a couple of days, he was asked to take up the challenging task of devising a seat-sharing formula for the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. A month later on October 16, he was made national vice-president of the JD-U and given the charge of managing the party’s campaign for the Lok Sabha polls. These steps effectively made him number 2 within the JD-U.
The move, however, caused heartburn in the ranks. “These are very important and prestigious tasks,” said a senior political analyst. “The emergence of Kishor has been a cause for displeasure, if not unrest, in the ranks. To rub salt into the wound, Kumar also sounded out most of his senior party leaders. As a result, the stature of other party leaders has been diminished.”
As soon as he joined the JD-U, Kishor started preparing the ground. The poll strategist ensured that Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party remained on the JD-U’s side during the seat-sharing negotiations, strengthening Kumar’s position in the talks. The effort spectacularly paid off with the JD-U and the Bharatiya Janata Party deciding to contest an equal number of seats in Bihar in 2019.
Kishor has also started wooing young voters to support the party and in this connection, he met members of the party’s youth and student wings. The invitees to the two four-hour interactions on October 21 and October 22 were selected through a carefully constructed vetting process by Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee, in which the number of Facebook friends was a key criterion.
Those who were invited asked questions and sought tips from the former pollster. According to the people who attended these meetings, Kishor appeared confident while speaking on his role in Bihar’s development, Kumar’s vision and the opposition, but he ducked queries on issues such as prohibition and caste politics.
Political pundits see these meetings as a show of strength by Kishor.
But, a senior JD-U leader said: “It was all about building a new vote-bank... While other leaders are busy organising caste-based meetings, Kishor wants to repeat what Nitishji did. As Nitishji built a unique vote-bank of women, Kishor wants to attract young voters.”
Others lose clout
With the meteoric rise of Kishor in the JD-U, the stature of R C P Singh in the party is the worst hit. Singh, a former IAS officer, has been close to Kumar since 1989. He took voluntary retirement in 2010. A week after his retirement, Singh was sent to the Rajya Sabha by the JD-U.
Singh is currently touring the state and organising Aati Pichada Sammelans (meetings of extremely backward castes). Earlier, there used to be good numbers in these meetings, but after Kishor’s emergence, the crowd in Singh’s events has dwindled. Even at his Patna house, fewer people are coming to meet him, said a junior legislator in the JD-U.
The failure of other senior leaders to emerge in their own right is considered a reason for Kumar roping in Kishor. “No member of Kumar’s kitchen cabinet is a mass leader. Singh, at the best, is a boardroom politician,” said an analyst.
A shot in the arm
When Kumar reached New Delhi recently for meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah to finalise the seat-sharing formula for 2019, Kishor was by his side; Singh was conspicuously missing. Soon, Kumar and Shah announced the agreement of the two parties contesting an equal number of seats in Bihar. “What Singh couldn’t achieve in six months, Kishor did in one month,” said a senior party functionary.
Singh, however, still looks after the financial health of the party. As a former bureaucrat, he has close relations with senior officials of the state government. It’s said that he plays an important role in major administrative decisions. “Therefore, it’ll not be easy for Kumar to replace him,” said another JD-U lawmaker. Other senior party leaders, however, do not enjoy the same protection.
According to a political analyst, the results of the 2019 election would decide the future of Kishor within the party. “Securing the seat-sharing formula is a big win for Kishor,” said a JD-U leader. “Now there will be deliberations on constituencies.
"If we get the constituencies we want, there is a good chance that we will perform better than the BJP. In this scenario, Kishor will be the undisputed successor to Kumar in the JD-U. However, if the JD-U performs poorly, the knives will be out for him.”
Though Kishor has reportedly said that he would not contest any election for the next 10 years, analysts see a strong possibility of him entering Parliament via the Rajya Sabha route.
The BJP, however, remained sceptical of Kishor. He had tried to broker peace between Rashtriya Janata Dal Chief Lalu Prasad and Kumar earlier this year, but the initiative fell through. This revelation has made the saffron party wary of its former campaign manager.