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P For Victory: Who is Prashant Kishor? The Man Who Corporatised Indian Elections

File photo of Prashant Kishor (PTI)

File photo of Prashant Kishor (PTI)

Prashant Kishor is a political juggernaut whose election machinery has redefined many poll strategies.

Politically speaking, W in win stands for Prashant Kishor. He is considered the man with the Midas touch when it comes to turning elections on their head. Someone who has successfully delivered big wins while rooting for the underdog.

He single-handedly shifted the focus from politicians to political communication strategy when it came to designing election campaigns.

And now, he looks set to join the Congress - a party that is on the verge of political extinction and is riddled with infighting even as its own members mount rebellious public campaigns against the Gandhis.

After redefining the West Bengal assembly election strategy where he recrafted Brand Mamata Banerjee and helped her desecrate the very party he began his decade-long illustrious career with, this will be Kishor’s first big move since he ‘quit the space’ in May.

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Kishor, who met the Gandhis on Tuesday for an agenda ‘bigger than the Punjab crisis’, started his career as a public health expert and worked for the United Nations for eight years before taking the political plunge. Ahead of the 2014 general elections, Kishore worked closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign.

He parted ways with the BJP thereafter and is credited with bringing all opposition parties together in Bihar to script a massive victory of JD(U), RJD and Congress combine in 2015.

If he does join the Congress, this will be his second stint in the political arena. In September 2018, he joined the Janata Dal (United) under the tutelage of Nitish Kumar. However, he was expelled in 2020 for openly criticising Kumar’s supportive stand on Citizenship Amendment Act.

Chai pe Charcha ke charche

In preparation for the 2014 general elections, Kishor launched his Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a media and publicity company in 2013 that became the force behind Narendra Modi - the former chaiwala who became prime minister of India. Kishor is also credited with crafting Modi’s national campaign with innovative marketing and advertising campaigns. The Chai pe Charcha discussions, pathbreaking 3D rallies, the Run for Unity, and Manthan programmes were all his brainchild.

He is said to have been a key member in Modi’s team driving strategies for months in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

After the BJP registered a landslide win and came to power, Kishor parted ways with Modi and converted the (CAG) into a specialist policy outfit, the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC).

The victory path

I-Pac’s first big project came the next year as they scripted a massive victory for the JD(U), RJD and Congress combine in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections. Kishor is said to have dramatically influenced Nitish Kumar’s image that helped him secure his third term as chief minister of Bihar.

Upon winning the Bihar elections, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar named Kishor as his advisor for planning and program implementation.

With this win, Kishor became known as the man who delivers - every single time.

Soon after, he was roped in for the 2017 Punjab elections by the Congress which was fighting two concurrent battles - first, to remain politically relevant, and second, to keep its rebellious flock together. Kishor was asked to put the spotlight on Captain Amarinder Singh to deflect public attention from the controversial remarks being made in public by Punjab Congress leaders who were unhappy with Singh’s elevation following his threat to quit the party.

And he delivered. The Congress stormed to power by bagging 77 seats in the 117-member assembly. Kishor’s “Coffee with Captain" and “Punjab Da Captain" campaigns made Singh a household name.

Now, as the state prepares for polls next year, Kishor is yet again part of the Captain’s team.

The black spot

The only red on Kishor’s report card is perhaps the 2017 UP election, where his client Congress managed to win only 7 seats while the BJP won more than 300.

Kishor’s decision to back the Congress in a state it hadn’t been in power for 27 years was heavily criticised by analysts and politicians alike.

There were whispers that Kishor’s ideas and suggestions were met with stiff resistance by the party leaders.

Interestingly, Kishor’s Tuesday meeting with the Gandhis assumes significance as they met after almost five years, following a strain in their bond since the UP elections where his ‘UP Ki Ladki’ strategy and slogan failed to take off.

ALSO READ | Can Prashant Kishor’s Midas Touch Revive a Jaded Cong as Gandhis Pin Hopes on 2024?

Onwards and upwards

After the UP debacle, Kishor, ad political advisor, designed YS Jagan Reddy’s election campaign, revamped the image of the YSRCP so much so that it won with a large majority of 151 seats out of 175 seats.

One of his biggest wins was in the 2020 Delhi assembly elections where he defied all odds and led Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party to a phenomenal victory emerging from a surging Modi wave.

BJP, Banerjee, and Bengal

Perhaps the highest point of his career was on May 3, 2021, when a wheelchair-bound Mamata Banerjee stormed to power in West Bengal defeating the BJP in a bitterly fought vitriolic political campaign that came to be known as one that will set the trend for 2024 general elections.

Before the polls, the strategist had famously announced that he would quit if the BJP won more than 100 seats. The TMC had secured 213 seats, while the BJP won 77.

In demand

Now, Kishor is being wooed by former Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy who feels that he will save his party, the Janata Dal (Secular), in the next Assembly elections due in early 2023.

The TMC also recently extended its association with Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) till the next assembly election in 2026.

If Congress, in the meanwhile, manages to rope him into the party, it would be a big fillip for the grand old party. Sources say one can expect many organisational changes in the party soon.

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first published:July 14, 2021, 19:09 IST