Despite anti-incumbency, Mamata looks firmly in command as no survey has so far predicted a saffron sweep in Bengal. And that gap, Prashant thinks, is too big to fill or surpass for the BJP despite its leaders going on an overdrive in the slog overs.
Prashant Kishor (ANI)
West Bengal Elections 2021: The stakes are high for both Mamata Banerjee and Prashant Kishor in what is turning out to be one of the most unpredictable and keenly watched elections in West Bengal in a long time. While support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is visibly growing, the popularity of the feisty chief minister, who ended the 35-year regime of the Left, cannot be underestimated on her home turf. Mamata’s ship is being steered by Prashant, who has already given his verdict — ‘BJP will struggle to cross double digits in West Bengal’. And if it does, he says, he will quit politics. Prashant has stuck his neck out in a fight which is largely guided by the Mamata vs Modi dynamic. Despite anti-incumbency, Mamata looks firmly in command as no survey has so far predicted a saffron sweep in Bengal. And that gap, Prashant thinks, is too big to fill or surpass for the BJP despite its leaders going on an overdrive in the slog overs.
As per the Times Now-C voter opinion poll, the highest the saffron party can get is 112 while the ruling Trinamool can bag 162, the difference in vote percentage being 4.7 per cent. However, the BJP still has over a month to play catch up or even march ahead of the TMC. This may or may not happen. But even if the BJP manages to breach the 100-mark, it would be considered a major achievement for a party which just a decade ago had no member in assembly and commanded less than two per cent of the votes in Bengal. So far, seven of eight opinion polls conducted have predicted that the BJP may get over hundred seats with about 38 per cent votes.
For Prashant Kishor, Bengal, by far, is his toughest battlefield where he is pitted against the old warhorses — Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Prashant has worked with the duo before in 2014. After the BJP came to power in Delhi, he expected a bigger reward but failed to get one following which he moved on taking up assignments in other parties. Prashant has worked with Rahul Gandhi, Capt Amarinder Singh, Arvind Kejriwal, Akhilesh Yadav, and Jagan Mohan Reddy. He is credited to have helped Amarinder win Punjab, Kejriwal in Delhi, and Jagan in Andhra Pradesh. But Prashant failed miserably in Uttar Pradesh with his ‘UP Ke Ladake’ (slogan for Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav) against the BJP in 2017.
In 2018, he joined Nitish Kumar’s JDU, BJP’s ally in Bihar, as its Vice-President. Later, Nitish Kumar revealed that he had inducted Prashant into JDU on Amit Shah’s request. But soon, Prashant left Nitish over what he termed as “ideological differences”. It was widely believed then that he did not get along with Nitish’s close aide and now JD-U chief RCP Singh. Just weeks back, Prashant again joined hands with Amarinder Singh in Punjab. Even there, the poll strategist faced pushbacks from some of the Congress MLAs. Of 80 legislators, only 55 were in favour of his return to handle the party’s election strategy for 2022.
Similar differences played out in Bengal where Prashant’s induction triggered high-profile exits from the TMC. Suvendu Adhikari, once considered to be the second most powerful person in the ruling party, left Mamata after he sensed a succession plan already in place with Abhishek Banerjee taking all big decisions with Prashant. Adhikari’s defection to the saffron party led to a string of resignations including of sitting MLAs and ministers from TMC. Adhikari comes from an influential political family which alone has command in over 45 assembly segments. Then there are the seats of those sitting legislators and ministers who have crossed over to the saffron party following the footsteps of Suvendu. If Adhikari succeeds in delivering even half of these seats to BJP, the fight could be tougher for Mamata in Bengal than Prashant may have anticipated.
Remember, the saffron party had won 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats with 40.7 per cent vote share even when Suvendu had not boarded the BJP ship. While Prashant may not have as big a role in Suvendu’s exit, he certainly miffed other senior leaders with his corporate style of functioning and proximity to the chief minister and her nephew Abhishek. Just a few weeks back, TMC’s senior Rajya Sabha MP Dinesh Trivedi quit the party saying he was fed up with violence in the state and control of party politics by corporate people. In an interview to The Hindustan Times, the former TMC leader said that Prashant’s team had “taken over” his social media accounts and posted the kind of tweets that people in Delhi would know “Trivedi would never write”. Trivedi may not be a mass leader but he mirrors the sentiments of many of his former colleagues who, he says, are not comfortable in the party and privately admit ‘kya kare, kahan jaye’ (what to do, where to go). This puts Prashant in a situation which only a definitive win can rescue him from, until his next plunge.