Didi’s new headache goes by the name Prashant Kishor

Mamata Banerjee's detractors have begun asking where the money to pay Kishor is coming from.

When Prashant Kishor agreed to work for the Trinamool Congress for the West Bengal Assembly election scheduled to be held in April-May of 2021, he accepted a challenge that could really establish him as an asset in electoral battlefields. So far, he has succeeded when he has ridden the tide, and failed when the task was to tame it. But Bengal, after the Lok Sabha polls, is a perfect 50:50 case.

BJP has had a huge rise, but is still a little behind the ruling party. If the wave continues, it may dislodge Mamata Banerjee in 2021. But a few surprises and some out of the box ideas may still work some miracle for the most popular leader of contemporary Bengal. Kishor, in fact, has accepted the challenge of springing up just such surprises.

But when he accepted the challenge, little did Kishor know that in Bengal he would become a punching bag for the detractors of the chief minister. If morning really shows the day, it can be predicted that he will have to face quite some unsavoury tirades in the coming days.

The ball has already been set rolling by Sabyasachi Dutta, a prominent dissident MLA of the ruling party and mayor of the Salt Lake-Rajarhaat townships, adjacent to Calcutta. Defying the party’s diktat to leave the post of the mayor, he targeted Kishor, probably assuming him to be the villain behind the party’s move against him. “Now in Bengal, Trinamool Congress is paying money for advice,” he told the media. “Someone has come, Kishore Kumar or whatever... I don’t know whether he is a party member, but he is giving advice. From where is the money coming to pay him? So, then the party has 400 or 500 crores for him!” He then asked, “Has this man ever worked as an organiser (on behalf of a political party) for a Panchayat election?”

Things like this had never happened to Kishor earlier. Since 2011, Prashan Kishor has worked as political strategist for many: For Narendra Modi (2011-14), for Nitish Kumar (2015), for Congress in Punjab (2016) and in UP (2017), and for YSR Congress (2019). In all these years, he was never attacked by the opponent so directly, and so crudely.

But this is just the trailer, claim Opposition leaders. A Left leader not willing to be identified gave a broad hint of their strategy on Kishor. “He has no ideology, even no values and that is why he can help anyone for money,” said the veteran leader. “Mamata is now taking help from a man who has helped the communal forces to come to power in Delhi, and is still a vice-president of BJP’s ally Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar. I think we have to highlight this point. A final decision will have to be taken in the state committee meeting.”

BJP’s Mukul Roy mocked Prashant Kishor even before his appointment, but it was a political attack. “No political strategist can turn the tide in favour of TMC that has lost people’s confidence,” he said a month ago. The BJP is planning to highlight Prashant Kishor’s appointment to highlight the 'fear and uncertainty’ in the mind of Mamata Banerjee.

As it appears, the focal point of the attack will be the consultancy fees that I-PAC, Kishor’s organisation, will get from the TMC. Unlike in the rest of India, politics is still ideally seen in Bengal as social service. Under the circumstances, a political party paying money to a political consultant is not likely to go down well with the people. Sensing it, Mamata Banerjee has claimed that Kishor is not charging anything for the service. According to media reports, she has claimed that Kishor undertook the job as part of corporate social responsibility. However it will be hard to establish the claim, as I-PAC itself is a policy research organisation, and giving political consultancy can hardly be treated as social responsibility.

Meanwhile Kishor has suggested drastic changes in the attitude and functioning of the TMC. But, a large section of the rank and file of the ruling party have been badly affected by his suggestions like the ‘pay back cut money’ campaign which has spread like wildfire. Identifying disloyal or ineffective leaders, apologising to the people for mistakes, or not using the police in the interest of the party have created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Some ministers are sulking. If push comes to shove, they will not spare Kishor who is planning to open 200 branch offices and recruit 5 lakh youth for the campaign.

Altogether, it seems in Bengal tough days are ahead for Prashant Kishor.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of books including, A Naxal Story. He is a deputy editor at the Bengali daily, Aajkal)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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