Arvind Kejriwal rarely praises someone, but after meeting Prashant Kishor, he said "He is super-intelligent." I think this meeting took place in 2016 or early 2017 between Kejriwal and Prashant Kishor or "PK" as he is popularly referred to. I was then in the Aam Aadmi Party or AAP. That is the only time I've met PK. Kejriwal once said of the political strategist, half-jokingly, "He is super-intelligent, but he is super-ambitious." In the months after that meeting, Kejriwal was wary of PK's plans that included some major changes for AAP to consider in its structure. They worked together in 2020 though for the result that saw AAP sweep Delhi.
PK is followed by the media very regularly. But two of his recent sessions have been construed as game-changing by his friends in the media. His serial meetings with Sharad Pawar were described as the starting point of an anti-BJP opposition front for 2024. The Sharad Pawar-led meeting of the Rashtra Manch in Delhi on June 22 was seen as as part of that exercise. I had agreed to be there too, but the next day when I read the newspapers, I realised that the the conclave was being perceived as a political conclave so I dropped out. As did Karan Thapar. We both were of the opinion that as journalists, irrespective of our ideology and views about the Modi Government, we could not be party to any political conglommeration.
Next, PK's meeting with the Gandhis became prime political real estate. Again, there is talk of PK working on "something big"; there is speculation like vintage Harkishan Singh Surjeet, he is attempting to unite the Congress and other Opposition parties to the same platform. It is also rumoured that he may formally join the Congress with a major political responsibility. The Gandhi family has not yet denied or confirmed anything. Though Sharad Pawar has said that his meeting with PK had nothing to do with politics, and that is he not interested in being the Presidential candidate, a premise offered by the press on the PK meetings with him. It is a divine coincidence that even before PK meets a top leader, the media knows about it, and after the meeting, the headlines are large - though with no confirmation from the parties involved. Including PK.
I have always been intrigued by PK. He is young and an outlier. He is not a traditional politician. Before joining Modi's election team, he worked abroad. It was the 2014 win of Modi that made him famous. The media hinted that Modi owed his victory to PK who designed his campaign. He broke many moulds. He brought certain western methods to the campaign. Modern marketing tools were used to build a narrative while a ground-level feedback mechanism was used to tweak the campaign mid-way. Innovative programming was launched to reach out to new voters and constituencies. Segmental targeting was given high priority. The "product" was packaged with a lot of X factors. Suddenly, Modi was no longer the Modi I knew. He transformed into an icon, a cult figure, a superman who had a cure for all the ills faced since 1947 by the country. The man personifying this was not the RSS leader with a conservative outlook; he was seen with a laptop and modern gadgets with The Economic Times placed on the side. He was a cool dude who appealed to the youth.
I don't know if PK designed all this or whether he executed a vision that originated elsewhere. Either way, it was a brilliant campaign, and he should get credit though it had shades of Barack Obama's 2012 campaign. So his sudden exit from Modi's camp was surprising. I was expecting him to play a bigger role once Modi took over as Prime Minister. Modi has very strong likes and dislikes. Members of his core team rarely leave him. The PK departure has never been clearly explained: did he leave on his own or was he forced to leave? Since then, he has signed up to help virtually every political opponent of the BJP - from Captain Amarinder Singh to Jagan Mohan Reddy to M K Stalin to Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal. For a very brief period, he became a politician himself, joining Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United and becoming its Vice President. The media again conjectured that he was the successor to Nitish Kumar but then the partnership came undone and PK was expelled by Nitish Kumar. He tried to create a political platform in Bihar, his home ground, but it didn't take off. And he went back to doing what he does best, helping politicians fight elections. After Mamata Banerjee's magnificent victory in West Bengal, he told the media that he would no longer work as a political strategist and would find a new role. It appears that he now wants to be a politician at the national level, not just help others in that league. He did not respond to my calls when I tried to seek answers on this.
Since he is looking for a bigger role for himself in national politics, he should be open to public scrutiny. Let me begin by asking him three questions.
1) What is his ideology? Someone who has worked very closely with Modi is these days heard telling Opposition leaders that Modi is very dangerous for the country. Modi is an RSS man. He wears his ideology on his sleeve, and he is very proud of that. I am sure PK is well-aware of the RSS ideology and also knows extensively about the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Despite that, he helped Modi in 2013-14; so today, how can he be taken seriously when he says Modi is dangerous for the country? Did he help him despite knowing these facts well? Or is it a late realisation?
2) What is his commitment to secularism? He has worked with Mamata too. Mamata is ideologically the antithesis of Modi. One can understand politicians like Suvendu Adhikari and Himanta Biswa Sarma changing colours overnight to fulfil a lifelong ambition. Both these men were in the secular camp before joining the BJP. They never spoke ill of Muslims but after switching sides, their language was highly unsavoury and unambiguous in who it was targeting. Politicians changing colours is normal, but it is not expected from someone with claims of changing the political landscape of the country. Can his words today be trusted when he says he is out to save the Indian constitution, democracy and secularism?
3) Nitish Kumar is a difficult person to work with. He expects total subordination from his colleagues but so do other political leaders. Take any name and the story is the same. PK joined Team Nitish. He was virtually his deputy but that lasted barely a year. Someone like me who spent longer in politics for longer than him can vouch that politics is rougher than presumed, but what is the guarantee that if he joins a party, he will stay there for long? And that his ego will not have the upper hand?
I am an admirer of PK's body of work. He brought innovation and creativity to Indian politics. But working in the shadows is easier than working directly with the masses, which needs patience, depth, understanding and creativity of a different level. To hide 'super' ambition from the public glare itself is politics and till now he has failed miserably on that front.
(Ashutosh is Author and Editor, satyahindi.com)
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