“They come and ask the same questions every other day, how many times do we give them the same information, they ask what is the caste percentage in your area, how many Muslims, how many Hindus, how many Brahmins etc. How can I give them an accurate percentage” says a town president of (All India Trinamool Congress (hereafter AITC) on the condition of not being named. This arises one question, who is they and why does an AITC leader have to give information to someone.
Prashant Kishor (PK) and IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee)
Prashant Kishor the mentor of the IPAC entered West Bengal in 2019 through Abhishek Banerjee (President, All India Trinamool Congress) and nephew of Party Chairperson and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to counter the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state. The Genius of IPAC can be traced backed to the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), setup by Prashant Kishor among others (hereafter PK) as a body of young professional to foresee the campaign design and execution of the Narendra Modi led BJP in 2014. He had previously worked with Modi in the 2012 Gujarat Election but came to limelight in the 2014 General Election, when he coined campaigns like “Chai Pe Charcha”.
After the 2014 General Election, PK parted ways with Modi and converted CAG into IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee) as a Political Consultancy. This Hyderabad based company, took one of its first assignment from the Nitish Kumar led Mahaghatbandhan (RJD and JDU) for the 2015 Bihar Assembly Election, where it led the coalition to victory with its campaign “Saat Nischay”. In the 2017 Punjab Assembly Election, it helped Captain Amarinder Singh come to power with its campaign like “Coffee with Captain”. Its 2017 Endeavour in Uttarakhand for the Congress failed miserably. It later helped YSR Congress (YSRCP) in the 2019 Andhra Assembly Election and also played a role with the Shiv Sena in the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly Election and AAP in the 2020 Delhi Assembly Election.
PK who was into oblivion ever since 2017 for his failed endeavour in Uttar Pradesh for the Congress, again came to light in 2018 when he was appointed the Vice-President of Janata Dal (United) by its President and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar. During his tenure as Vice President of the party, IPAC with its office in Patna was designing campaign like “Youth in Politics” under him. Though he (PK) does not associate himself officially with IPAC, his relationship with IPAC became clear when after being removed as the Vice President of JD (U), he launched his Campaign “Baat Bihar Ki” from the office of IPAC, based at Exhibition Road, Patna
Entry into West Bengal
While PK was still the Vice President of JD (U) in 2019, IPAC signed contract with AITC, and starting hiring people for its campaign in West Bengal. At that point of time IPAC was to design campaign for AITC and provide strategic advice, however slowly things began to change. The AITC organisation Structure became irrelevant as the party leaders and workers became mere workforce for the execution and implementation of the decision made by IPAC or better known as “PK’s Team”. A new Structure came into place; the state was divided into zones, which consisted of 3 to 4 Administrative Districts. Each Zone has an officer called the Zonal who reported to the State lead and was assisted by DPOC (District Point of Contact). The DPOC was further assisted by APOC (Assembly Point of Contact) who in turn was assisted by 3 to 4 Fellows.
Thus came a came Administrative Hierarchy with PK at the top. “PK’s Team comes and tells us do this or that, when we object or try to put our point forward, they don’t listen, we just have to listen to them” says a town president of AITC on the condition of not being named. The Party leaders and workers were unhappy because in PK’s Team no one was from the party, they were young professional from reputed university and organisation (Former Employees). “I have been an MLA for two terms, and a 24-25 years old person comes and tells me what I should do and what I shouldn’t. They ask about the caste combination, religious combination, Hindi- Non Hindi speaking people in my constituency. How do I tell them that this is not how it works here, it might work in Bihar, UP or elsewhere but not here” says another leader of the party leader.
Time and Again AITC leaders and workers have expressed their concerns against the PK Team and some have even broken the party lines to go and speak about this in public. The workers who have led the party from its beginning in terms of Campaign designing, mobilisation etc., have now lost all stakes in decision making. The Media Cell of IPAC handles, the Social Media account of some leader. Party workers are told what to circulate and not circulate on their whatsapp groups. This has not gone down well with some party workers.
The Nadir of Discontent
A former Zonal of IPAC (West Bengal) spoke on the condition of not being named that “APOC (Assembly Point of Contact) is the nodal officer of the assembly. He is responsible for the implementation of campaigns, gathering data, and observing the party leaders, opposition parties, and other developments in the constituency”. IPAC being a political consultancy was mandated to do this, but the biggest problem arose when they started interfering in the party ticket distribution. “The APOC prepares a ground report and suggests who will get the party ticket. In an AITC won constituency he ascertains whether, a sitting MLA has to be retained or changed with another person. His ground report along with the report of the Political Intelligence Unit (PIU), a wing in IPAC and the Report of the Media Team is send to PK, who takes a final call”. Says a fomer Zonal of IPAC. This kind of working has not only led to disgruntlement among party leaders and workers but has also led to corruption. People, who wish to get tickets, have started to work to be in the good books on PK and IPAC.
A Few incidents have been reported wherein; Fellows of IPAC have taken money, promising seats in return. A former DPOC (District Point of Contact) of IPAC, West Bengal stated “ It came to my knowledge that a fellow had taken five lakhs, promising a person, that he will recommend him in the reports. He was later removed from this services”. The people working in IPAC also know the resentment by the party workers and leaders and they face difficulty in terms of non-cooperation when it comes to data collection. Sometimes it is genuine because, the workers don’t have the data, which is asked for, but even if they don’t have they have to produce it within no time. This raises concerns about the accuracy of the data. “The data we get, sometimes is not accurate, or sometimes not even useful” says a employee of IPAC on the condition of not being named. This non-cooperation by AITC leaders and workers can be best understood from the statement of Party worker “PK’s team was hired for consultancy, his job is to provide us the best advice to counter the principle opposition party BJP. He (referring to PK) was not hired to run the party, he is not even the member of the party, simultaneously he is running a campaign in Tamil Nadu for another party”
Exodus from the party
IPAC under Prashant Kishor has emerged as a powerful lobby ever since it entered the state in 2019 with its outreach campaign “Didi ke Bolo”. In February 2020 PK was provided with “Z” category security in West Bengal at the expenditure of the state. Serious objections came to this, as the opposition, Sujan Chakraborty, CPI (M) legislative party leaders raised a question as to why a person with no public life in West Bengal was granted such enhanced security. From 2019 when PK arrived, who shares good relations with Abhishek Banerjee and Mamata Banerjee, Abhishek Banerjee has emerged as second in command responsible for all party administrative matters. This has not gone down well with other party leaders; they feel side lined and have started looking for greener ground for this. The recent departure of Suvendu Adhikari among others is also because of this as per a few insiders.
AITC a party that, Mamata Banerjee has nurtured since 1998, how is it that someone who came to provide consultancy service, is now almost running the party. If she could lead the party successfully for so long, why does she need an outsider now? The Bigger question here is who will take the blame or credit of the results which would come in the early or mid 2021?