In the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constantly evolving image, the Opposition is only playing catch-up, said election strategist Prashant Kishor while speaking to The Indian Express’ e-Adda on Tuesday. Kishore spoke extensively on issues ranging from his political plunge in Bihar to what plagues the Congress to how the Opposition can counter the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The problem with Congress, Kishor opines, is that since the last eight years in opposition, they have still not learnt how to be in opposition and behave like an Opposition party.
“You have to create an issue as an opposition and stay put for one or two years, like Shaheen Bagh or farm law protesters where the central government was forced to take a step back. The opposition lacks that consistency,” said Kishor. Hitting out at Congress’ reactionary politics only aimed at criticising PM Modi, Kishor maintained that if there is a narrative, faces will eventually emerge.
“When Congress goes out on streets today and when the media doesn’t cover them, they get frustrated…this is what happens when you get used to being in power for decades,” Kishor further added.
Kishor charted the decline of Congress in four phases – the 1975 emergency, the Bofors scandal in the late eighties, the Ram Mandir uprising in the early nineties and finally, the India against corruption movement in 2012, referring to the formation and rise of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Commending Modi’s rise from “Hindu Hriday Samrat” to “Vikas Purush,” Kishor told The Indian Express, “Modi’s USP is his ability to evolve constantly. He is doing that even now. Look at how he has married his grasp of foreign policy with the nationalism agenda. This feeds into the voters’ psyche.”
Opening up on his new chapter in Bihar, Kishor said that his next step is to change the languishing state of affairs over there. He clarified that he is not going there with a purpose to defeat anyone. Kishor said that in order to win elections, one needs 4 Ms — a right and a simple ‘Message’ that people want to hear, a trusted ‘Messenger,’ a party ‘Machinery,’ and ‘Mechanics’ of the campaign.
“Padyatra in Bihar will get me the narrative and the message will help me understand what the actual issue is. We often make an assumption that we already know what people want. But, the fact remains we don’t. I don’t want to make the same mistake,” Kishor said.
Kishor has expressed his intention of finding a group of similar minded people who want to bring to form a party in order to bring about a change in Bihar. On asking whether he would like to lead that party, he said, “I am only a catalyst. I may or may not lead. Let the process unfold.”
Talking about the relevance of the Gandhian ideology even in today’s politics, Kishor asked, “Even after Gandhi being associated with the Congress before independence, how many programs does Congress do with Gandhi at the forefront or singing his bhajans or projecting his face and struggles?” Spotting a huge vacuum, Kishor said that no political party uses Mahatma Gandhi enough in their current political discourse.
Good governance in Gandhian ideology, according to Kishor, means that which meets the expectations of people. “If people want school and you give them roads, that might be projected as good governance but not necessarily for the people.”
Calling polarisation “overhyped”, Kishor said that there is no data to suggest that polarisation alone can help one win or lose elections.
If only religious identity is taken into consideration, Kishor said, “Convince Hindus who are not aligned to the BJP’s brand of Hindutva. As data suggests, there are nearly 50% Hindu voters who can be targeted. If one can crack the way to approach the Hindus who don’t approve of the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, they can defeat BJP election after election.”
While calling nationalism as one of BJP’s potent weapons at the Centre, he pointed out that the very same can be blunted by regionalism during state elections. This is why the BJP can be seen relatively underperforming in state elections, he felt.
Kishor pointed out that the legacy of Congress as its greatest strength while inertia remained its biggest weakness. He also felt that the BJP’s overdependence on Modi is like a chink in their armour.
On the importance of money in politics, Kishor said, “My assessment is that if you have public support, society will find a way to support you monetarily. BJP is getting money because they are likely to win, not vice versa.”