In the middle of poll season, speculation has gained ground that election strategist Prashant Kishor’s relationship with Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its chief Mamata Banerjee has soured.
There have been several reports in Bengali media that when Kishor sent a text message to Mamata about his reluctance to work with the party in Tripura and Meghalaya, she responded with a “Thank You”.
Several reasons are being given for the souring of relations: from constant interference in the State bureaucracy to trying to have a bigger say in party affairs by sidelining old timers, to creating a rift between aunt Mamata and nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
There has been no official comment on these reports, but there has been no denial either.
But beyond the confirmation and denials, the question that needs to be asked is this: why does Kishor fall out with the leaders and parties he is supposed to have helped to win the popular mandate?
When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, together with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress, trumped the BJP-led NDA in the high pitched 2015 poll battle, Kishor not only donned the role of a neta, but came to be projected as Nitish’s successor. Much to the discomfort of several other Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leaders.
It was then said that Kishor joined Nitish’ team after falling out with the then BJP President Amit Shah who didn’t like Kishor trying to hog the limelight of BJP and Narendra Modi’s 2014 success.
Until the 2015 Bihar elections, Kishor was largely known as a behind-the-scenes man who helped create the larger-than-life image of Modi.
Even as Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) engaged with the likes of Amarinder Singh and the Congress in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in 2017, the strategist himself stayed with Nitish Kumar.
But when the public falling out happened in 2019 over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that was opposed by Kishor and supported by his boss, the Bihar Chief Minister went on record to tell journalists that the feted strategist was actually foisted on the JD-U by none other than Amit Shah.
There was a feeble denial in the form of a tweet and not an outright challenge to Kumar’s claim made at a press conference in presence of hundreds of journalists.
Many believe such speculation, lending credence to Nitish’ statement, may have been the reason why the trust deficit between Kishor and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi continued to exist even when Priyanka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi had okayed his joining the Congress.
In fact, when Kishor met the Gandhis in July last year, mainstream media speculated on various possibilities: from the poll strategist trying to forge Opposition unity for the 2024 elections to pitching Sharad Pawar as the Opposition’s Presidential candidate.
But a journalist, who is a regular contributor to a channel that can easily qualify to be part of his “ecosystem” ( borrowing the words of Modi), first tweeted that Kishor would be joining the Congress.
It is well known that Kishor has a select band of journalists and TV channels, that give regular updates about his ambitious plans. And in turn, he would ensure that this favoured lot gets to interview the leaders who engage him.
But none of them, so far, has yet spelt out why Kishor’s Congress plans fell apart or, what the reason are for the falling out with Mamata, whom he had pitched as a prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
What’s clear though is that ever since Kishor started working with top Opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, DMK chief M K Stalin, the Opposition parties, far from being united, seem to be disunited. And that can only help the BJP.