In an analysis by the man widely considered India’s foremost electoral strategist, Prashant Kishor has said the crisis has increased the already existing levels of frustration and anger felt by India’s vulnerable and poor people for the system.
Kishor defined the system as not just the government, but the ruling establishment. Up until now the crisis has not affected the Prime Minister’s standing and many who have suffered will have appreciated his apology. Also, as in a war or crisis like this there is an initial tendency to rally around the flag and government. Modi will benefit from that.
However, things could change if the suffering increases both in terms of its economic cost and human cost. In an TV interview with Karan Thapar, Prashant Kishor, who is widely acknowledged as the electoral genius behind Modi’s 2014 campaign, which first made him the Prime Minister, said that if the economic damage, particularly loss of jobs and hunger, and deaths increase sharply it will definitely damage the BJP and the Prime Minister’s standing. In the end, the buck will stop with Modi. Just as he will take the credit if all goes well, the blame will be pinned on him if the outcome is the opposite.
Kishor said the same could be said of the state governments. If the suffering increased, they too will be blamed.
He said the Central government was slow to react to the coronavirus crisis and was “still behind the curve” — people at the very top did not seriously respond till March 20.
Kishor is unsure what tens or hundreds of millions of daily wage workers, landless agricultural labor and the unorganized sector workers feel about the BJP government and Modi. But he is certain that they will be angry with the system. That anger could depend on how severe their suffering turns out to be. However, he says that had the lockdown been announced for seven days at a time, rather than 21 at one go, the poor and vulnerable would have been more confident of being able to withstand it and would not have begun walking back to their villages hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Kishor is also critical of the government’s communication. He said press conferences were held by bureaucrats. Were they held by top ministers who were transparent and open, it would give the country a higher level of confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis.
Prashant Kishor has advice to the opposition parties. They must not oppose and criticize for the sake of criticizing. They should support the government on “the right points”. Most importantly, they must go out to the grass roots and comfort and support people – something missing. Leaders were tweeting from the comforts of Delhi and Mumbai or state capitals but not going to the people to be with them.
Kishor said that whether the damage the BJP and Modi could suffer would affect their election chances was very difficult to predict because elections are four years away and this will also turn on the opposition’s ability to unite and find a face to take on the PM. But anything can happen. Who knew in 1986 that Rajiv Gandhi would lose three years later? Who could say in 1973 or 1975 Indira Gandhi would lose in 1977?