Let’s take a closer look at Prashant Kishor’s journey as a political strategist
Rama Krishna Sangem
Prashant Kishor, now well known as PK, is back in the news. He is set to join Congress and work for the party to bring it to power in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Whether or not he can do it, let’s take a closer look at his journey as a political strategist from 2014 to till Bengal elections last year and now his plans to turn into a full time politician.
Why does the top leadership of our mainstream political parties prefer PK and his strategies? but Not their brains, their party leaders and cadre?
PK‘s rise as a strategist over the last 10 years – right from his job with then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi- is interesting. Interesting because, it also tells us the course of Indian democracy and the multiparty electoral system. And also absence of core ideologies and internal democracies in almost all major parties. PK always deals with the supreme leader or the high command of a party.
His associates deal with lower rung leaders. PK’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) generally ignores lower level leaders of cadre of any political party. We hear that he charges huge sums of money for helping a party fight an election, but there is no proof of it. Till YSR Congress party leader YS Jagan introduced PK in a meeting before 2019 assembly elections, the strategist never appeared on public stages.
The 45-year-old PK first worked with the United Nations as a public health expert before returning to India as a political strategist. The job of political strategist is unheard of as it is a phrase only known in the US. There the contesting UP presidential candidates appoint their own staff and media advisers, planners and political strategists etc.
Even senior leaders of the Republic or Democratic party will not have much say in the campaign teams of the presidential candidates.
In India, it is different. Here, political parties, at least in the beginning decades after Independence, will have central and state level committees which chalk out the campaign themes. Till 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi hired an advertising agency to run a media campaign, the role of outside agencies – public relations or otherwise – was minimal.
Only rich parties like Congress or BJP hire such agencies, but not others like CPI, CPM or Muslim League.
Elections are fought on ideological planks – Right wing or Left wing or Center of the Left etc. Even regional parties like TDP, Samajwadi, BSP too had some ideological stands. Only after 1991, when India embraced liberalization, slowly these ideological differences started melting down. Of course, BJP depended on Hindutva agenda while Congress claimed a secular image. Most of the other regional parties only talked about development and welfare.
After shedding the hardcore Dravidian stands, both DMK and AIADMK competed with each other in offering freebies, sops to all sections of voters – in the name of welfare of the poor. Of course, some degree of sentiment too worked with the voters. Claiming that the interests of their respective states were important to them, these regional parties mostly focused on welfare and developmental issues. Federalism is more important to them.
When more than one such party fought elections, one of them – the party which wanted to come to power – roped in outside agencies – ad and PR agencies. Then came PK, with his strategist role. Here, strategy is not ideology or a core philosophy of a party. PK and his team only conducts surveys and identifies election issues in every constituency and recommends winning candidates. Some even call PK a tactician.
Worked with 7 parties so far
PK first worked with Narendra Modi for his Gujarat assembly elections in 2012. Later, PK worked for Modi in 2014 Lok Sabha elections too, coming into limelight. Later, PK worked for JD(U) in Bihar assembly elections in 2015, and Congress in Punjab assembly polls in 2017. All these are successful ventures. However, PK could not ensure that Congress won in UP in 2017.
PK got credit for YS Jagan’s win in Andhra in 2019, AAP success in Delhi in 2020, and Mamata Banerjee’s victory in Bengal and MK Stalin’s DMK win Tamil Nadu in 2021. After Mamata’s victory, PK declared he will no longer be available as a political strategist, but work as a full time politician. He joined and exited JD(U) between 2018 and 2020, apparently on an ideological issue – opposing ally, BJP brought Citizenship Amendment Act.
After working for seven parties with an impressive success rate, PK is now in touch with TRS chief KCR and very recently he met Congress top leaders Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. We don’t know how things will work out, PK currently seems to be interested in defeating BJP in the coming Gujarat assembly elections. PK is also reported to be working for a non-BJP government at Center in 2024. NCP chief Sharad Pawar too is in touch with PK for this purpose.
What surprises us all is the preference of all these parties’ supreme leaders to avail the services of PK, who hasn’t spoken on any issue openly so far. Of course, as a citizen of this country, PK has every right to meet and advise any party leader or work for the win or defeat of any party. But, so far he claimed to be an outsider – or a supporting staff of any political party. But, he wants to be the player.
Super communicator, smooth operator
We must acknowledge that PK has proved to be a super communicator, a strategist and a smart operator who can reach any leader at his will. We must also understand how the dividing lines between different parties are fast disappearing and how the internal mechanisms of established parties are failing. Top bosses of major political parties are not ready to trust their own colleagues, but a newly introduced strategist-cum-player.
Whether PK will officially take up a role in Congress or not will be decided in a few days. We need to wait and see whether he will adjust to work with Rahul Gandhi in the next two years.