How Prashant Kishor’s bid to mobilise Biharis on development, not caste, is going

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“You already have a census for Dalits. What did you do for them? You already have a census for Muslims. What did you do for them? Dalits and Muslims are the poorest in Bihar,” he added. 

Kishor, also referred to by his initials ‘PK’, is a former member of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), and has served as its vice-president. 

However, the two later fell out and Kishor launched the Jan Suraaj Padyatra across Bihar in what is seen as a precursor to his plunge into politics.   

Kishor’s yatra started from Mahatma Gandhi’s Bhitiharwa Ashram, West Champaran district, on 2 October 2022. 

All through the journey, the theme of his speeches has been development issues, shorn of any talk of identity politics in a state where caste has been a decisive factor. 

While he hasn’t spelt out his plans, he is said to be trying to carve out a political constituency for himself in the run-up to 2025 assembly elections in Bihar.  

Before he started the padyatra, he had visited every district, meeting social activists, youths, teachers and other sections of society. 

On 1 October 2023, PK and his team entered the 10th district of his journey. Bihar has 38 districts, and PK still has to walk another 28 districts. 

While the state’s political parties make light of Kishor’s outreach, he has his admirers.

“The one thing that has impressed me about him is that PK, so far, has avoided talking about caste and communalism,” said former MLC Prem Kumar Mani, himself a social activist before joining politics and a part of PK’s team.

“It’s like a farmer trying to rejuvenate his farm which has been destroyed by overuse of chemical fertilizers. Instead, he is using organic fertilizers. It has a long-term effect,” he added.

Organisers of Prashant Kishor’s Jan Suraaj Yatra say that they held around 15,000 events in the first nine districts covered. 

“The events include meeting the local youths and forming youth clubs, holding separate meetings with youths regarding employment and active participation in politics, a meeting with mukhiyas and block-level people representatives, visiting as many local schools and talking to the children,” said Sandeep Kashyap, a key member of Kishor’s team. 

“He talks to men and women who reside along the road he walks, covering around 15km per day, holds painting, dance and other competitions at the local level, and holds a meeting of local residents at the venue where he has his night halt,” Kashyap added. 

The team, Kashyap said, has three sets of tents for Kishor. “One is where he stays and the other is put up at the place he stays the next night. The third is ready for the following night,” he added. 


Also Read: ‘One doesn’t grow with small mindset’ — Prashant Kishor invokes Vajpayee to attack BJP on Rahul disqualification


How PK intends to overcome caste factor

After the Nitish government released the caste survey report, Kishor said “those who got the caste census [conducted] have done nothing… for the betterment of society”. 

“The caste census has been played as a last resort, so that, by dividing people of society into castes, they can once again let the election boat sail through,” PK said. 

According to Kishor’s team members, it’s not that he does not recognise the influence of caste and religion on Bihar politics. 

“We come across all sections of society — Yadavs pitching for Lalu [RJD chief Lalu Prasad], or Kurmis supporting Nitish, Hindus supporting the BJP and Muslims saying that they have no option but to support the INDIA [Opposition] alliance,” Kashyap said. 

“But the point is that, if one talks about them, they become more aggressive in favour of caste communalism. Instead, PK talks about day-to-day problems the entire population faces, education, unemployment, health infrastructure and other things. The people then react more positively,” he added.

What PK has achieved in one year

When PK announced his yatra last year, he said his aim was to establish good governance and create a “dream state” that respected everyone’s fundamental rights. 

He did say that his outfit would take the shape of a political party, but did not give any timeline. 

After one year of the yatra, organisers claim to have 1 lakh volunteers and a block-level network in the nine districts PK has travelled. 

PK has already interacted with over 1 crore people, say his aides. 

“We have around 1 lakh volunteers in Bihar who will gather whenever we call them. It’s not that a place is forgotten after holding meetings. It is followed up and we have set up committees in each block for that,” said Rakesh Kumar Mishra, a retired director general of Bihar Police who is close to PK. 

“But for now participating in elections is off the table,” said Mishra, who is among the 20 former IAS and IPS officers who have joined PK. 

Mishra said elections were not a priority at this stage for Jan Suraaj. 

Political observers say the yatra is an appreciable initiative, but doubt Kishor will find electoral success as of now.  

“One has to appreciate PK for going down to the grassroots and interacting with the people,” said N.K. Choudhary, former professor of economics of Patna University, said he doubted. 

“He is creating social awareness. Social awareness is also a process of political awakening. But for now I seriously doubt he will have success in electoral politics in the immediate process, PK has followed the path of Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhi did not face caste and communalism to move towards his political objective. PK does.” 

As a political strategist, Kishor worked with not just the BJP but also Nitish. However, the JD(U) now dismisses Kishor. 

“PK said that he had a key role in formulating Nitish Kumar’s 7 resolutions on infrastructure, employment on other issues, Now he is criticising the same schemes of Nitish,” said JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar. 

“PK is becoming more and more irrelevant.”

For traditional political parties in Bihar, PK’s politics remains an enigma. “The role of a third party is very limited. It’s either you are with a ruling party or with the Opposition. The late Kishan Patnaik used to draw crowds but did not get votes when he contested Lok Sabha polls. It is wrong to compare PK with Gandhi as PK’s yatra in incurring heavy expenses”, said Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) national vice-president Shivanand Twari. 

The Left, meanwhile, sees Kishor as a stooge of the BJP. 

“PK speaks mostly against Nitish Kumar and JD(U), He seldom speaks against the BJP and even his social messages are not going to have any impact,” said Bihar CPI (Marxist-Leninist) secretary Kunal. Ironically, BJP leaders say in private that since PK is a Brahmin, he will end up damaging the NDA.

 (Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


Also Read: As PK’s Jan Suraaj yatra meanders through Bihar, 1st electoral success spurs hope of ‘impact in 2025 polls’


 

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