DOES NITISH KUMAR'S CHIEF CAMPAIGNER IN BIHAR STILL SUFFER FROM A GUJARAT HANGOVER?
Earlier photograph of Prashant Kishor with PM Narendra Modi
NEW DELHI: From Narendra Modi to Nitish Kumar is a long walk but for Prashant Kishor but he claims it to be all part of the profession. And after building a campaign for Prime Minister Modi’s during the last Lok Sabha elections, he seems to have gone to work with similar commitment for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Assembly election campaign.
From “Acche Din” to….? Kishor, himself from Bihar, still seems to be searching for an answer and has yet to come up with a comparable catchphrase for Kumar. Development of course, but then development is the slogan for both the BJP and the Janata Dal(U). So even while the campaigners try to make a difference, there really is not much of a difference as both sides sell their promises as genuine, and attack the other as fake.
The DNA of Biharis triggered off by a remark by PM Modi against Kumar was taken up by Kishor and his team but it has not really worked in the manner they had hoped.Or actually had not even hoped, as minus a central point the campaign team had taken this issue up fully aware of the limitations but was unable to reap the dividends as it were. It has worked, according to the political assessment in Bihar, but only marginally.
The outsider-insider theme? Yes that does seem to strike a chord, but not as much through Kishor’s campaign but more when the JD(U) leaders point out at rallies that they have a face in Nitish Kumar, the voter knows who they are voting for, whereas the vote for PM Modi might spring any surprise as the Chief Minister. This has some resonance but again not enough to be the catchphrase, and through it a turning point for the JD(U) campaign as it were.
Kishor who had found the spotlights on him after the high blitz campaign he and others ran for PM Modi, clearly is still grappling with the complexities of his home state. The campaign is cash strapped, as was not the case earlier when money was the least of the Modi campaigns problems. And the campaign too was visible in the urban cities of India, focusing on development, and on growth, and on promises arising out of the same. It was larger than life and catapulted PM Modi to power, with the social media being used to its maximum. The Prime Minister’s own fascination for the social media helped.
KIshor returned to India in 2011 after a stint at the United Nations and later joined a bunch of IIM and IIT graduates in defining PM Modi’s campaign. He is credited with turning Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s chai wala remark against PM Modi into the central point --chai par charcha--- of the campaign, that worked heavily in favour of the latter. He is also seen as the brain behind the holograms.
The Bihar campaign still remains in search of the lynchpin as it were. Kishor himself insists that there is no conflict of interest, of having worked with the BJP and then with their arch rivals in Bihar. And that for him development is the key, and this is what attracted him to PM Modi and this is what works for him with CM Kumar. So he is reluctant to break away from the theme of development, but has still to find a catchphrase to define the campaign in a manner that will take it to another level altogether in Bihar.
It is unlikely that he will, as he is not searching beyond development. In fact, he does not want the campaign to move into the areas of secularism, social equity, social justice that have worked for the various constituents of the Janata Dal here in the past. This Kishor is positive will amount to playing into the hands of the BJP. and help them polarise the campaign. So its all about development and the youth that he feels still have a very soft spot for PM Modi in Bihar. He does not add, but it seems rather obvious, that he is more comfortable with the issue of development rather than the contentious and complex caste and community problems that impact on polity in the state. Hence development it is, but here too the questions central to the campaign might or might not convince the voter in favour of Nitish Kumar.
Sometimes too much information is restricting, and Kishor’s first hand knowledge about the BJP seems to have made him more tentative and hesitant that he might have been otherwise. He is very conscious of what the BJP counter could be to any issue, and that some in Bihar feel cuts into his own campaign strategy for the JD(U). He has succeeded in linking Kumar to development, and to Bihar, and as he says there are no negatives attached to the Chief Minister. But that in an election as keenly contested as this one, is not enough as the JD(U) alliance desperately needs a slogan, a catchphrase or a visual that will distinguish it from the BJP and turn the tide decisively.
Kishor has still to deliver here. For the distinction between the BJP and the JD(U) comes in the areas that he has decided not to tread. Mainly because he thinks such a campaign will be counterproductive and he could be right, but partly because he himself is uncomfortable in this particularly territory. In fact, he has been out-staged by the incorrigible Lalu Yadav whose mimicry of PM Modi at a public rally, caught on camera, has flown across Bihar and the country and did more harm to the BJP than the official campaign till date.
All said and done, perhaps a Congress leader had the last word when he said, sometimes the sharpness of the thrust is blunted when you know the opponent equally well. Not because you want to, but it is just human nature. The Kishor in Gujarat suffered from no such restriction as he was new to the field and the opposition was the ‘enemy’ , but the Kishor in Bihar does not have an ‘enemy’ , as he has worked for both.