On March 23, 2019 — ahead of the Lok Sabha Polls — Congress president Rahul Gandhi compared Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee with BJP’s Narendra Modi. This happened two months after when his mother and senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi extended support to Banerjee’s mega ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (Grand Alliance) rally at iconic Brigade Parade ground in Kolkata in January 2019 where more than 20 strong regional leaders were present on the dais.
In one of the fiercest attacks on Banerjee, Rahul then accused her of doing nothing for Bengal while comparing her with PM Modi. On March 24, 2019, at a public meeting in Malda district, ‘Didi’ preferred to not pay much attention on his accusation and termed him as a ‘small kid’. “Chhoto Chheley Bolechhey… Boluk Na. Ami Kichhu Bolbo Na (I will not comment on what a small kid had said),” she had said.
Despite her desperate call for a ‘Mahagathbandhan’- even after having a mega show on January 19, 2019 where 23 political party leaders (BJD, TRS and Left stayed away) were present at the Brigade Parade ground — the anti-BJP front turned out to be a damp squib as Narendra Modi once again ascended to power in the Lok Sabha Polls with huge mandate.
The poll results on May 23, 2019 proved that Banerjee’s worst fear had come true after BJP made massive gains in West Bengal, winning 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, up from just two in 2014. Then, the setback became a matter of concern for Banerjee as many shifted to BJP, which included Trinamool MPs, MLAs and influential district leaders.
Such was her worry that Banerjee, fearing that the party will collapse amid BJP’s exponential growth in Bengal, roped in political strategist Prashant Kishor to bring TMC back on track.
All credit goes to TMC MP and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee to initiate a dialogue with Kishor and he was persuaded on June 6, 2019 to help the party regain its position in Bengal’s politics, especially in the backwoods.
Banerjee’s decision worked well; not only Kishor helped TMC in securing a thumping victory against BJP in 2021 Assembly Polls but also crafted a new TMC to portray her as the most credible face to take on BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Her massive victory comes with a reward as TMC extended contract of Kishor’s I-Pac for another five years till 2026.
Banerjee’s geniality with key regional leaders such as Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, DMK’s MK Stalin, Telugu Desam Party’s N Chandrababu Naidu, National Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and Omar Abdullah of National Conference clearly shows that she is carefully moving forward in projecting herself as the most credible anti-BJP face in the country.
Recently, the speculation gained momentum after Kishor — in an attempt to reignite the regional party power — held couple of meetings with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
According to political experts, the meetings could be seen as a well-planned strategy by Kishor to bring opposition parties together to take on the BJP considering the crucial 2022 Assembly Polls in Uttar Pradesh and the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.
The meeting could also be seen as a message from Banerjee to bury differences mainly with the Congress and other regional parties, which emerged during the 2019 General Elections.
It is believed that Kishor — before reaching out to other regional parties — wants to connect the dotted lines between the NCP, Congress and TMC to think beyond state specific political strategies. And to give it a political shape, Banerjee is all set to visit New Delhi at the end of July for a week to meet important political leaders, including the Gandhis.
Political expert Kapil Thakur said, “With Rahul Gandhi at the helm of the Congress — ‘Didi’ will not yield the opposition space to him especially after TMC’s win in Bengal, which is considered to be one of the toughest political battle in the recent past. She will certainly try to encash this opportunity.”
Kishor has been credited with orchestrating several electoral wins while working with the BJP, Congress and YSR Congress in particular. His first major campaign was in 2011 when he secured the victory for Narendra Modi in Gujarat for a third term as chief minister. The 44-year-old, Kishor, has had a training in public health and worked with the United Nations for several years before entering the Indian political scene.
He came in the lime light when he helped Modi and the BJP win the 2014 General Elections with innovative canvassing techniques: the ‘chai pe charcha’ (talks over tea) campaign, 3D rallies, conclaves and social media programmes. Since then, Kishor has aided in electing to power JD (U)’s Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Congress’s Amarinder Singh in Punjab and the YSRCP’s YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. His association with the Congress for the 2017 Assembly Polls in Uttar Pradesh, however, ended in a humiliating defeat for the party.
Now, armed with successes, Kishor is once again hitting the the headlines following TMC’s and DMK’s impressive performances in West Bengal and in Tamil Nadu.
With the current political equation revolving around the regional parties to create a strong anti-saffron mood — Mamata-Rahul-NCP are certainly heading towards political compulsion only to take on BJP in the 2024 General Elections.
And Kishor is certainly going to play a crucial role.