What’s Prashant Kishor’s Bihar Game Plan? Read Between the Lines

Prashant Kishor launches ‘Youth’ movement to fill political vacuum in Bihar, leaves the door open for Nitish Kumar.

Updated18 Feb 2020, 04:39 PM IST
Politics
5 min read

Political consultant-turned-politician Prashant Kishor is presently one of the most interesting political entities in India, linked as he is to some key regional players like YS Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu and, to some extent, Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray in Maharashra.

But on Tuesday, 18 February, Kishor announced his political plan in his home state – Bihar. Addressing a press conference in Patna, Kishor said that he is launching a ‘Baat Bihar ki’ campaign from 20 February and his aim is to mobilise 10 lakh people, mostly youth, by 20 March to join a “mission” for the development of Bihar. By June, he hopes to reach 1 crore people.

According to Kishor, “This mission is a long-term plan and not aimed at the upcoming elections in the state”.

Kishor, who was recently expelled from the Janata Dal (United) by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, categorically said that he is not joining any party or alliance.

Kishor’s plan – ‘to mobilise youth for the development of Bihar’ – may seem broad and non-political. But, if one reads between the lines, it is clear what the strategist is trying to achieve. Here are five things one can read from Kishor’s press conference:

He’s Trying to Fill A Big Political Vacuum in Bihar

One fact that Kishor seems to recognise is that there is a big political vacuum in Bihar. Unemployment, rising prices and failing government systems have created a significant anti-incumbency sentiment against the JD(U)-BJP government.

Having said that, the main Opposition parties – the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, and smaller parties like Hindustan Awam Morcha, Vikassheel Insan Party, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and the Left – are not in a position to fill the vacuum as of now.

The main Opposition face – Tejashwi Yadav – lacks the stature of his father Lalu Prasad but is still afflicted with the baggage of the alleged misrule under the RJD.

Therefore, analysts say that there are limits to which Tejashwi can capture the anti-incumbency vote beyond his party’s traditional Muslim-Yadav support base.

The other party which could actually have captured the vote of those dissatisfied with Nitish but also scared of a return to RJD rule, is the BJP.

But with Amit Shah announcing that the NDA will remain under Nitish’s leadership, BJP too, has forfeited this position unless there’s a change of stand in the future.

This is the vacuum that Kishor is trying to fill. However, Kishor knows that with no party machinery in place, it would be a daunting task to make an impact in the elections, which are due barely eight months from now.

‘Movement’ Before Party

Rather than building a party from scratch, Kishor is taking another route – trying to create a social movement across Bihar by mobilising the youth.

In his press conference, Kishor repeatedly said that his priority is to bring together lakhs of young Biharis who would be willing to work towards a more prosperous Bihar.

Besides its ‘youth-centric’ nature, the other element of his proposed movement is a narrative of Bihari pride.

During his press conference, he repeatedly drew parallels between Bihar and other states, particularly Gujarat, the state of PM Modi and Amit Shah. He even said that it was Biharis who taught social media to Gujaratis.

The messaging part isn’t new for Kishor as many of his previous campaigns have involved presenting a glorious vision for the future, be it the 2014 Modi campaign nationally, the 2015 Nitish Kumar campaign or the 2017 Amarinder Singh campaign in Punjab.

However, the mobilisation that he is aiming for, is new territory for Kishor as he would have to do that with very little machinery at his disposal, besides the group of volunteers he has gathered and the professionals at his Indian Political Action Committee.

The only parallel for this, as of now, is the Aam Aadmi Party, which emerged as a result of the Jan Lokpal movement. But Delhi was a far smaller and manageable canvas than Bihar.

The youth-centric nature and the narrative of Bihari pride is also Kishor’s way of building support across caste lines.

Being a Brahmin and not seen as a caste leader, Kishor is unlikely to gain much support based on caste, so his strategy is to build a cross-caste movement.

The question is: What happens if Kishor’s movement is successful?

Door Open for Nitish

If Kishor does manage to mobilise a few lakh youth across Bihar, it may help him do one of two things: Create space for himself as a political player or give him a great deal of bargaining power vis-a-vis other political parties.

Soon after the announcement, he received the support of RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha, who said that Kishor expressed the sentiments of all the youths of Bihar.

During the press conference, Kishor left the matter open-ended, saying, “Let us first bring together youth from across Bihar. Then we can decide (what to do)”.

Another matter that he left open-ended was his relationship with Nitish Kumar.

If Nitish Kumar wants to join this initiative for a better Bihar, we would be happy.
Prashant Kishor

He invited Nitish to join his movement at least three times during this press conference. On one occasion, he even invited Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi of the BJP to join.

Therefore, it does seem clear that Kishor is open to working with Nitish or even Sushil Modi, but he has made it evident that he resents the control exerted by BJP.

Bihar needs an empowered leader and not one who is a sidekick (of the BJP).
Prashant Kishor

“For me, the Nitish Kumar of 2014 with just 2 MPs was far more powerful than the Nitish Kumar of 2020 with 16 MPs,” he further said.

Ideologically Opposed to BJP

During the press conference, Kishor repeatedly emphasised that he is ideologically opposed to BJP.

“Nitish Kumar always told me that he follows the path of (Mahatma) Gandhi, (Ram Manohar) Lohia and JP (Jayaprakash Narayan). So why is he in the company of those who hail Godse?” Kishor said.

On being asked if he’s open to working with the BJP, he said that after the 2014 Modi campaign, he has worked solely with anti-BJP campaigns.

He also said that he remains steadfast in his promise that there will be no NRC in Bihar.

On being asked what his ideology is, he said, “My ideology is egalitarian humanism and my path is the path of Gandhi”.

What is also clear is Kishor’s rivalry with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Many see both of them as Chanakyas of Indian politics. During the press conference, Kishor reminded that, “Chanakya was from Bihar”.

Not Keen On RJD

It is also clear that as of now, Kishor doesn’t want a truck with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. He mentioned the party only in the context of the alleged misrule during Lalu Prasad’s tenure.

Throughout the press conference, he didn’t mention Tejashwi Yadav even once. In fact, at one point he even took a dig at the RJD leader by saying, “I’m not the son of a politician who can start a political party with ease”.

So What Are Kishor’s Options?

A lot would now depend on the extent to which Kishor is able to mobilise support for his “youth centric” movement for Bihar’s progress and fill the political vacuum in Bihar. If he is able to do that, and given his antipathy towards BJP and reluctance towards RJD, he would have three options:

  1. Form his own party and create a coalition with smaller parties like HAM(S), VIP and RLSP, perhaps even the Left.
  2. Get Nitish Kumar to quit the NDA and spearhead yet another JD(U)-led campaign, with our without the RJD
  3. Join hands with Congress in Bihar and make it more independent vis-a-vis the RJD.

However, this is if he is successful. If not, then he may have to continue purely as a political strategist, and wait for his breakthrough as a politician.

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Published: 18 Feb 2020, 11:55 AM IST
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