Prashant Kishor, the poll strategist hired by Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay, stirred controversy by tweeting that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will “struggle to cross double digits” in the forthcoming assembly elections, and if it does then he will quit the “space”. Though the state BJP leaders have wished him a happy retirement in return, the assertion by the strategist has raised eyebrows in different quarters, media being the one.
The context of Kishor’s assertive tweet is the recent large-scale poaching by the BJP, which caused significant erosion in the leadership rank and file of the TMC. The recent defection of Suvendu Adhikari, who was a minister in Bandopadhyay’s cabinet, along with several members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), one existing and one former member of the Parliament (MP), belonging to the TMC, the ailing left and the Congress party, stirred the murky political water in the state. Union Home Minister and the BJP’s chief strategist Amit Shah has claimed that the Party will win more than 200 seats on its own. It became a moment ignominy for the TMC, and Kishor had to jump into the fray to revive the spirit of the leftover workers and leaders of his client.
While Kishor’s roping in by Bandopadhyay is blamed to be a cause of discontent among many of her loyalists and old guards, who aren’t liking the way the I-Pac chief is dictating them election dos and don’ts, it’s widely accepted that the campaigns undertaken by the TMC since him taking up the job created better visibility of the government programmes at the grassroots and helped to ease discontent at several places. Recent programmes like “Duare Sarkar” (government at the doorsteps), “Didi Ke Bolun” (Tell Didi, ie, the chief minister), etc, have increased the brand recall of the ruling Party.
Kishor’s intervention has made the TMC MPs and MLAs to connect more with their constituents and a big data collection programme is undertaken from the booth level upwards. This has changed the modus operandi of the Party at different places and several leaders have complained that they are not comfortable with the new developments. But rather than giving them an ear, Bandopadhyay has shown her support for the poll strategist. Some of the TMC leaders have claimed, off the record, that they aren’t confident about the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election as they aren’t comfortable in complying with the “diktats” of Kishor, an outsider.
Adhikari’s defection is also blamed on the growing clout of Kishor. As Adhikari considered himself as the successor of Bandopadhyay, he didn’t like Kishor calling the shots over him. With the veto power of Bandopadhyay, Kishor clipped the wings of Adhikari and other leaders since his roping in. This is blamed to be a cause of rift within the TMC. Kishor, who once helped Narendra Modi to sweep the 2014 elections and became a leader of the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, is also accused by the TMC leaders of being a BJP mole.
In such a situation, to ensure that the TMC’s leaders, at all levels, can trust him and work amicably with him, Kishor has thrown the challenge to the BJP in a state where the latter is desperate to form the government and establish its hegemony. His challenge, with his promise to leave the political consultancy business, is more of motivating rhetoric rather than a literal challenge. “He wrote the tweet not to target the BJP but to appease his employer. He wrote this to counter the doubts being raised about his professional capability since he is paid handsomely,” the BJP’s West Bengal vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar was quoted by the Hindustan Times.
Earlier Kishor helped Aam Aadmi Party to sweep the 2020 Delhi Assembly election, the second time in a row, with an absolute majority. Therefore, the BJP is not taking the challenge lightly as soon after this assertion, TMC weaned away Sujata Mondal Khan, the wife of Soumitra Khan, BJP MP from Bishnupur, from the saffron camp. This sudden switching of the camp created a ruckus in the state politics, which, despite not being of the level matching that of the TMC’s erosion, did cause issues for the BJP.
Though score-wise the BJP has been weaning away a large number of leaders, MPs, MLAs and workers from the TMC and other parties, the inner-contradiction within the BJP, caused by the large-scale poaching, between the old guards and new entrants, has become an Albatross around the neck of the Party.
Whether Kishor quits political consultancy or the BJP’s juggernaut is halted by his manoeuvring, West Bengal’s politics will be marred by several controversies starting from the fluidity of political-ideological convictions, the morbidity of political loyalty and high-voltage drama, which will culminate at the arena of the polls. In case the BJP’s ambition is punctured by the TMC under Kishor’s watch, then he will certainly become a maverick in Indian political “space”, else, the TMC stalwarts, who have been alleging foul play, will get a reason to validate their claims and Bandopadhyay’s political clout in the state will evaporate.
Neeladri Mukherjee is a former high school teacher and a Rabindra Sangeet lover. An M.A. in Political Science (not entire), Neeladri is a close observer of West Bengal politics, South Asian affairs and the trade union movement.