July 29, 2021 9:06:01 pm
Prashant Kishor is a remarkable and paradoxical phenomenon in Indian politics. None can dispute the fact that he has been successful in his area of expertise – help political parties win elections. Neither can he be faulted for selling effective campaign strategies to his clients. But in more ways than one, his career is an eloquent reflection of the state of Indian politics. He symbolises the abject de-politicisation and hollowing out of Indian politics and its transformation into a utilitarian pursuit of power sans ideas and principles. Even more importantly and damagingly, he embodies the commodification of politics and the electoral process in India.
Kishor is deemed capable of swaying the voting preferences of multitudes, regardless of the ideological and political affiliations of the parties he has partnered with. He is credited with having helped political parties win elections in states as linguistically, geographically, and culturally different as West Bengal, the Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Many seem to consider him as capable of bringing down the Modi-Shah juggernaut, almost forgetting that his help was crucial in bringing them to the apogee of political power in the country.
Even as we busied ourselves discussing the likelihood of him joining the Congress party, we now see his name among the few dozens of Indians who were subjected to snooping, allegedly at the behest of the government. He is one of the most sought-after figures for media interviews on politics in India. Perhaps, he is the only apolitical figure whose pronouncements, clever evasions and cunning silences are interpreted by political pundits ad nauseum in the hope that it will reveal some new salacious details about the past, present and future of our politics. He is totally an outsider to the politics of the country except for a few years in JDU, but he could also be described as the ultimate insider in Indian politics – the only person who simultaneously knows several political parties inside out. He knows too much about politics in the country but is meticulously and eloquently silent on the serious issues confronting it.
He is neither secular nor communal, neither left-wing nor right-wing, neither for democracy nor for authoritarianism, neither for constitutional principles nor for ideologies that seek to tear them asunder. His partisanship – shall we use the word commitment here? — is spatially and temporally confined to the party that he has signed up with. This is a luxury we have never allowed anyone operating in the political sphere. Not only have we allowed him the luxury, but we kept celebrating his ability to sit on the fence and facilitate victory for players on either side with regularity. It is as if we have decided that this one individual at the centre of our politics is entitled to determine the outcome of the biggest public-opinion-shaping event in the country without having any opinion at all, sans on the combinations and permutations of castes, creeds and other markers of identity.
Kishor is surely not to be held accountable for the ills that plague our democracy but symbolises everything that is wrong with it. That the party once led by the likes of Gandhi and Nehru even considered roping him in is indicative of the poverty of imagination and ideas that the grand old party is suffering from. It is also reflective of the triumph of the idea of success removed from all notions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical. Everything is alright if you somehow achieve success is an intoxicating notion that our middle classes embraced long ago; this idea has now found currency amongst the masses as well.
That said, no one can grudge Kishor his spectacular success. We can only lament that his success is conterminous with the abject failure of the republic as a whole – its people, the lofty ideas it was founded upon, its crumbling institutions that once commanded global respect.
Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator writing in English and Malayalam. His book ‘God is Neither a Khomeini Nor a Mohan Bhagwat, Writings Against Zealotry’ came out in January 2020
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