Election strategist Prashant Kishor has been in news after launching his “people’s movement”, Jan Suraj, shortly after breaking relations with the Congress. What was formerly supposed to be a strategy to rally people and the wealthy to form a political party in Bihar, is now a public movement to protest the state’s inefficiencies in its governance. However, it is possible that he is testing the political waters by launching a new front as part of his preparation for the elections in Bihar.
In an interview with the Indian Express, Prashant Kishor stated that Indian politics will centre on the BJP for at least the next 20-30 years, and that he does not believe that the party will decline on its own. According to Kishor, Opposition parties should “appeal to Hindus who are not convinced with the BJP’s narrative of Hindutva” and “learn how to be in the opposition”. In light of his recent discussions with the Congress on how to revive the party, Kishor said that the Opposition should focus on building a narrative and not on individuals. He said that if you persist with a narrative, more likely than not, faces will emerge from it.
In response to a question about polarisation growing, Prashant Kishor claimed that the importance of polarisation in elections is “more overhyped, than what is actually on the ground”, and that the Opposition has to remember that. “The methods of polarisation have changed, (but) how you used to polarise, say 15 years back, its impact is largely the same. And we have looked at the electoral data. What we call elections in the immediate aftermath of the most polarising events… we have found that you are not able to mobilise more than 50-55 percent of the community, no matter what the polarising event was,” he added.
He disagreed with the notion that Hindu-Muslim polarisation might determine if someone wins or loses elections. “Lot of people whom you meet casually mention that all Hindus have become polarised. Sab saffronise ho gaye India mein. In India, the BJP is getting 38 percent of the votes. Assume for a minute, for argument’s sake, that everyone who is voting (for the BJP) is voting because they are convinced about the BJP’s way of Hindutva or their propagation of Hindutva or saffronisation… A simple math student will tell you that… 38 percent is the BJP vote share… less than half the Hindus are voting for the BJP,” he said.
Kishor also said that the BJP’s “nationalism plank” in assembly polls might be weakened by “sub-regionalism”, which would be the reason for the party’s “relative underperformance” in state elections. At the same time, he stated that the BJP will continue to be a “formidable electoral party” for decades, although it does not guarantee that they will win every election. In his view, just as politics in India centred around the Congress for the first 40-50 years – regardless of whether one supported or opposed the Congress – the next 20-30 years will revolve around the BJP. He stressed the importance of a strong opposition and said that it is unwise to think that the BJP will come down on its own. “This desperation that just because there is a BJP, there has to be an Opposition and hence some Opposition will emerge… I think that is wishful thinking.” He added that political parties need to grasp topics that influence people’s lives.
On the topic of the Congress, Prashant Kishor said that the party has yet to shake the belief that it is no longer in control. He went on to say that a party in power may receive more media coverage than one in opposition. “The Congress today goes on the streets, they do something, and they don’t get similar media attention or traction… Their natural reaction or response is how do we do anything because the media does not cover us. They completely blank us (out). This shows the mindset, the DNA of a ruling party which is yet to come to terms of being an Opposition party. That is the fundamental problem I see in the thought process of the way the Congress responds to a situation.”
Assuring the Opposition to stay put, Kishor said, “Look at Shaheen Bagh, look at farmers’ protests. Lot of people said ‘Where is the face? Where is the organisation, where is the media support?’ Some people came together and sat for a cause and sat and sat and sat till people took notice. And that persistence made the government take notice and, in both cases, take a step back.”
According to him, the Opposition has failed to persist with any cause. “Take COVID. A lot of people ask why, despite what we saw during Covid, there is no electoral setback (to the BJP). But where was the protest? Where is anything from the Opposition that has lasted one year or two… like trying to carry the voice of the people who have suffered during COVID and holding the government accountable? You do a tweet here or a press conference there. That is not what mass protest is about.”