Is Prashant Kishor tired of playing the coach and now wants to take the centre stage ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections? The political strategist-cum-politician, who has been on a ‘padyatra’ for over 180 days across Bihar’s villages, has caught the fancy of experts who are guessing his next move.
To figure out Kishor’s roadmap, News18 travelled to Bihar’s Chhapra. In Amnour, News18 came across a vast field dotted with white tents and a ‘Jan Suraj’ hoarding. We were told that Kishor — fondly called PK — stays in these tents.
Donning a white kurta-pyjama, PK’s appearance was the first giveaway of his changed image — from a corporate strategist to aiming to establish himself as a grassroots leader.
In an exclusive chat, Kishor emphasised on building an alternative political system that will come from the people. He criticised opposition meetings and pointed out that while the opposition is not weak in India, it is the parties that are weakening the fight. He also highlighted that the Congress can’t expect Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification will help them get votes. Interestingly, he positioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of others in the race to 2024.
You have been on a ‘padyatra’ for more than 180 days. How’s the feedback? You seem to have changed.
Yes, I have changed my lifestyle. I gathered several experiences from the work I have done in the last 10 years. I have decided that in the coming years, I want to collate my experiences in one place and this is what I am doing now.
I think to change politics, you have to bring about a change at the societal level, starting from the ground up. That’s what I am trying to do. I am here since October 2 last year. We are going from one village to another. I have not gone home. I have walked to visit 2,000 villages with 100-150 people. This is the only ‘padyatra’ which is “vishuddha” (genuine). It’s an “imaandaar” (honest) ‘padyatra’ where we don’t walk a few days and then take a holiday and go back home. There is no break. We stop at different villages to try and connect with people.
Another ‘padyatra’ [Rahul Gandhi’s] happened in India. What do you have to say on that?
They are a big party but our ‘yatra’ is small. The difference between the two yatras is that for me, the ‘padyatra’ is not about me but about being with people at the grassroots level. I want to experience what they are experiencing through my own eyes. I am not walking with a huge crowd. We visit people in their villages and talk to them. It’s not glamorous; I am going to villages where the media has never gone.
We want to connect with people on the ground. In Bihar, ‘palayan’ (migration) is a big problem. It’s not only happening with poor people but also the middle-income group. Students who do well academically have no jobs in Bihar and are forced to leave the state.
You’re trying to change the political narrative. Don’t you think it’s a utopian concept?
It may be utopian for you but my concept originates from whatever I have seen in the last 10 years. If this is successful in the future, it will create a new model.
In 2011, if I had spoken to you about the concept of political strategising, you would not have believed me. The fact that the model is successful now is why you are coming here. In the last 10 years, people have realised that there is a requirement for professional help in politics. When I showed that this is possible in different settings, then people accepted it. Even today, people should give time to my working style.
Is this practical?
In 2011, 9 of 10 people found the idea of professionalism in politics impractical. They would say ‘Modi is Modi, Mamata is Mamata, what will strategising do?’ Today, they believe us because we showed them our success model. I left that work in 2021 after the Bengal election but many young people are working on it. There is merit in getting professional support. The same is the case today. You have to give it time.
When will this ‘yatra’ end? Is this related to the election right now?
You want to relate it to elections while some ask me if it is a societal revolution. I say it is a movement in which political character will change via the society. A party will be formed but not by PK. It will be formed by the people, not a person or family. People will run it.
Now your question is when this will happen. The day the ‘padyatra’ ends, people who are part of ‘Jan Suraj’ will sit and decide if and when to form a party. I can’t give you a date. Initially, I thought it will be completed in one or one-and-a-half years but now I feel it will take more time.
What will be PK’s role in the 2024 polls? Just now I saw your team say that ‘Jan Suraj’ will support Independents in the local polls.
See, the Teacher Vidhan Parishad election is upcoming where teachers say all political parties have cheated them in Bihar. I told them they are complaining about a party cheating them but roaming around with its flag. People know their problem but vote for the same problem. This is applicable to India as a whole. I tell people that if you want to vote for education, then do that. Don’t vote for Pulwama. If you promote Pulwama, caste politics and politics along religious lines, then you will get that. I am not complaining about a leader, I am only telling people that it’s their choice.
When almost all parties revolve around caste and religion vote, will this concept work?
I am trying something new. Why will I repeat what others are doing? If you want to do things differently, it is always tough.
Where do you see yourself in 2024?
It’s not important that I have a role. My interest is in working on this honest programme of changing Bihar first. If this model works, we will see whether we can take it forward. Bihar is a poor state where all types of political experiments have taken place but no change was seen. I want to change this. We will do it at any cost. I am not a stakeholder in the 2024 election.
You have coached big leaders. What’s your take on the Opposition?
In India, the Opposition is not weak but parties are. Prime Minister Narendra Modi got 38 per cent votes in the last election. Even a Class 5 student will tell you that that the majority has not voted for BJP. They won four of 10 people. Now the work of the Opposition is to bring the other six together but it is not successful in doing so. Analysts feel that if this entire 60 per cent comes together, it will be possible but I don’t feel so.
The reason why the 60 per cent bank is fragmented is because it is not divided on the basis of parties but on the basis of ideology. There are Gandhiwadis, Ambedkarites, and Communists among others. If they are brought together by someone, only then a coalition is possible. It’s not the coming together of parties and leaders but coming together of ideologies and ideas that can give birth to a counter-narrative. However, that’s not happening.
Doing meetings and having tea doesn’t affect things on the ground. It’s only news for the media. Today, when news comes that 19 parties came together for a meeting, does this mean that in Bengal, Communists and TMC will come together? Even if leaders come together, do you think their workers will come together?
So you are saying Opposition is not prepared?
It’s not for me to say. It’s there in the public. Everyone can see whether the fight is on the ground or in social media. I don’t see fight in most of India.
Why do you say it’s a facade?
Because when leaders sit together, speculation about who will attend and who will skip is on. I am saying that even if they come, what will happen? Only coming together of leaders means nothing. It has to be coming together of ideas.
See the application of ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar. At that time, ideas came together and it became successful in Bihar. People now believe wherever they come together, results will be seen. But if you see after Bihar, success did not come in UP and other places. You have seen that nothing happened in Assam. In Bengal, there was no alliance and still TMC won. The Bihar ‘Mahagathbandhan’ was the coming together of agenda, ideas, and ideology with a seven-point programme. In 2015, the Congress got the highest strike rate but it was not leaders who managed it. It was the supporters.
Who is the main opposition?
Looking at the hard numbers and taking out the subjectivity, it’s a no-brainer that the Congress is the main opposition. They won 11 crore votes and are the biggest party after BJP. They have governments in some states and are the oldest party.
You gave a proposal to them but it did not work out. What do you have to say about their current situation?
The presentation I gave to the Congress was not for elections but for the party’s reincarnation. It is broadly what I am doing in ‘Jan Suraj’. I told them they have to build Congress from the ‘zameen’ (ground up). They need new people. They liked my ideas and offered me to come and implement them but there was no consensus on the process that they wanted me to follow. With all due respect to them, I told them that I would not be able to do things as per their ways.
How they take their party forward is the prerogative of the Congress now. People made noise on the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, thinking that it will revive the Congress. They thought the same about the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ but Congress lost badly in Gujarat after the event.
One incident cannot revive the party. People have to realise that Congress has been in decline since 1989. They last won in 1984 when they were in the government but could not win India. A fundamental reform is required, including the way they communicate.
What do you have to say on Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification?
See, it was unfortunate. I am not going into the judicial merit of his comment. With all due respect to the law of the land, the party in power should have seen this differently. Here, I would like to quote Atal Bihari Vajpayee-ji that one has to be the bigger person. Rahul-ji should have got the opportunity to go to a higher court.
This does not mean people will automatically start voting for Congress. Injustice has happened with you but you have to tell society. You can’t expect society to automatically stand by you. In the last four-five days that I am in this village, I did not see Congressmen come and explain their stand to people. How will people know? See, for my model, I am reaching out to people and not doing press conferences in Delhi. Only informing people will not do. Why should people take a stand for Congress?
Is the coming together of the Opposition a facade? Are you trying to build an alternative model?
I am not here with the purpose to defeat someone. I am conducting a positive movement. I am determined that I will do it in a puritan way.
According to you, the BJP has Hindutva, nationalism and beneficiaries that are helping them win. What should the Opposition have?
You [Opposition] need to come up with an alternative like Gandhi, Ambedkar, or Communists. Bring a different ideology and counter BJP. Give a better welfare model. You will not get success if you don’t do this.
What’s the status of your relationship with Mamata Banerjee now?
I left IPAC on May 2, 2021. IPAC picks parties they want to work with. My relationship with Banerjee is on a personal level.
Will TMC expand beyond Bengal?
They did well in 2021. They have made efforts in Meghalaya and other places. It must be kept in mind that the history we read in books took years to formulate. It’s not like Gandhi-ji came and Champaran happened.
As per the BJP’s allegations, all opposition parties are corrupt.
The issue of corruption is important for people. However, when leaders join BJP, they are not raided. If Lalu Prasad’s family had joined the BJP, all their corruption cases would have been cleared. BJP leaders say law should take its course but that should be equal for everybody.
Who is ahead in the race for the prime minister’s post in 2024?
By today’s analysis, it’s Narendra Modi.
What is Rahul Gandhi’s future?
If you are a Congress supporter, then he is doing well. Neutrally, the party has not revived under him and he is not doing well.
What about the TMC?
They are in the government. If they do well and serve Bengal well, the state will continue supporting them. They will be put to test in 2024 and also in 2026.
What are your views on Arvind Kejriwal?
I don’t know.
Can we see you in any contests?
I have no idea. I have to complete my ‘padyatra’. If it’s completed, I will fight.
What’s going to happen in Karnataka?
I don’t know. If BJP wins, it’s going to add hugely in their kitty for 2024. If the Opposition wins, it will help them.
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