The campaign that failed.

The campaign that failed.

Not third time lucky; Prashant Kishor loses the Midas touch

You can sell only when you have a product; you cannot sell a vacuum

Agency Report | New Delhi | 11 March, 2017 | 11:50 PM

Often credited with turning Narendra Modi into a political brand and bringing arch-foes Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar together for the Grand Alliance in Bihar, the magic of master poll strategist Prashant Kishor appears to have faded for the Congress, which suffered a drubbing in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Him being roped in by the Congress created much buzz in political circles, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Kishor in Uttar Pradesh where many of the party leaders, particularly from the state, had expressed their reservation over his strategies.

Be it the choice to name Sheila Dikshit, 78, as the chief ministerial candidate for the state, or tying up with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, his ideas met with resistance within the Congress.

In fact, Kishor — the brain behind the Congress-Samajwadi tie up — was dubbed a “sound recordist” by actor-turned-politician Raj Babbar.

“He is there to take the party’s ideology to the people in an effective manner using modern technology in the polls,” a miffed Babbar had said after Kishor met Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav last year.

Besides salvaging the tie-up with the SP when it looked like both the parties would part ways, Kishor planned joint roadshows of Akhilesh Yadav and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and coined the slogan “UP Ko Yeh Saath Pasand Hai”.

But the campaign blitz failed to take off as the BJP, riding on the Modi wave, swept Uttar Pradesh and wrested Uttarakhand from the Congress.

Both political analysts and Congress leaders admitted Kishor’s strategies were a failure but refused to squarely blame him.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Congress leader refused to put the entire blame on Kishor’s shoulders.

“In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won in 328 assembly segments in UP. It is obvious that our strategies failed to counter that. The BJP was far more meticulous in its planning and execution.

“But can a single person be blamed. Who is to be blamed for the failed strategies is a question that requires a collective answer from the party leadership,” the veteran leader said.

“The UP polls have proven that even somebody like Prashant Kishor can go wrong. It is obvious his strategies failed,” Praveen Rai, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said.

“But can he be solely blamed for the debacle? The responsibility lies with the leadership,” added Rai.

The win in Punjab has been a saving grace for the Congress, but experts credit the victory to Amarinder Singh rather than Kishor who designed the campaign for the Congress chief ministerial candidate, including the “Coffee With Captain” campaign on the lines of Modi’s ‘Chai Pe Charcha’.

As the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh became evident, Kishor found himself at the receiving end on Twitter with people mocking his strategies.

If actor-turned-BJP MP Paresh Rawal tweeted “Can anyone find out where is Prashant Kishor” other users wondered sarcastically – “Has Prashant Kishor uploaded his resume on LinkedIn?”.

But for psephologist Yashwant Deshmukh, Kishor was fighting an already lost battle.

“You can sell only when you have a product. You cannot sell a vacuum. Congress’ condition was already pathetic in UP. So it will be wrong to blame Kishor for the debacle,” Cvoter chief editor Yashwant Deshmukh said.