‘Prashant Kishor is a good salesman’

‘He is a key fulcrum point in the pan-Indian creation of an effective Opposition to the BJP.’

Prashant Kishor has become synonymous with Indian elections.

Never in Indian politics has an outsider made such an impact on the electoral outcome post 2014 that everyone wants to know what his predictions are and which party is he batting for.

His beginnings weren’t grand. In 2011 Prashant Kishor joined then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi as a public health specialist after completing a stint at a United Nations mission in Africa.

He did not hold any office in the Bharatiya Janata Party or any post in the Gujarat government, but worked out of Modi’s official residence in Gandhinagar and reported to the chief minister.

After the 2014 Lok Sabha election he is reported to have fallen out with Modi, now the prime minister, and Amit Anilchandra Shah, now the BJP president, after which he has never worked with the party again.

It is believed that the fallout occurred after Modi declared that Amit Shah was the man of the match of 2014. Prashant Kishor apparently felt his work had not acknowledged.

After the break with Team Modi, PK, as he is referred to, joined Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United just before the 2015 Bihar assembly election.

The JD-U was then part of the Mahagathbandan in Bihar along with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and smaller political parties.

“Prashant Kishor gets very involved with the person he works for,” observes political pundit Rasheed Kidwai. “Just like he stayed in Modi’s house in Gujarat in 2011, he stayed with Nitish Kumar at his house.”

“He did the same thing with the Gandhis when he worked closely with them. He was often seen breaking bread with them,” adds Kidwai, who is familiar with Congress party dynamics having written 24 Akbar Road, a contemporary history of the Congress, and Sonia, A Biography.

Kishor proved his mettle when the Mahagathbandhan won the Bihar assembly election in 2015, defeating the BJP.

Since then Prashant Kishor has handed out the BJP several electoral drubbings, which marks him out as the go-to man for non-BJP parties.

Here’s Kishor’s track record since 2015:

Victory for the Mahagathbandhan in the 2015 Bihar assembly election.

Victory for the Congress in the 2017 Punjab assembly election.

Victory for Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party in the 2019 Andhra Pradesh assembly election.

Victory for the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2020 Delhi assembly election.

Victory for Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the 2021 West Bengal assembly election.

Victory for M K Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kazagham in the 2021 Tamil Nadu assembly election.

‘Battle for India will be fought and decided in 2024 & not in any state elections. Saheb knows this! Hence this clever attempt to create frenzy around state results to establish a decisive psychological advantage over opposition. Don’t fall or be part of this false narrative,’Prashant Kishor tweeted soon after the BJP won four state elections in March 2022.

He was responding to Modi’s victory speech that ‘gyanis will say the BJP’s victory in the four states has already decided the outcome of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.’

After the TMC’s 2021 election victory in Bengal, PK had declared, ‘Amit Shah is the most over-rated political and poll manager. I have defeated him thrice head on. First in Bihar 2015 assembly elections, then Delhi 2020 assembly elections and West Bengal 2021.’

So, what makes Prashant Kishor special for political parties?

“He has organisational skills and a vision for India. He is a key fulcrum point in the pan-Indian creation of an effective Opposition to the BJP,” says author-diplomat Pavan K Varma, national vice-president of the Trinamool Congress and former Rajya Sabha member.

Ambassador Varma and PK were expelled from the Janata Dal-United in January 2020 after they questioned Nitish Kumar’s decisions on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Earlier, in 2017, Nitish Kumar had broken away from the Mahagathbandan and formed a government with the BJP in Bihar.

“He is driven by an India which is democratic, secular, prosperous and which is just. He felt the CAA when hyphenated with the National Register for Citizens was a transparent attempt to divide the country. It was an impractical and discriminatory action,” says Ambassador Varma.

“To my mind, Prashant Kishor breathes politics. He has an extremely sharp political mind. He has great organisational acumen and exceptional ability for hard work,” Ambassador Varma adds.

In February 2022, Kishor met with Nitish Kumar, setting off speculation over his next political move, but PK downplayed the meeting stating it was only a courtesy call.

Last week, interestingly, Nitish Kumar attended RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s Iftar party, surprising observers.

Political analysts in Bihar were intrigued by the timing of Tejashwi Yadav’s statement — which came a couple of days after the iftar milan — that ‘The Congress must take a backseat in 200 Lok Sabha seats where regional parties are strong and can take on the BJP.’

Through much of April it was reported that PK would become a member of the Congress party.

On Tuesday evening, PK clarified, ‘I decline the generous offer of the Congress to join them.’

Even as he held a briefing for senior Congress leaders on the route for political revival last week, his company I-PAC signed up the Telangana Rashtra Samithi account for the 2023 assembly election in Telangana. The ruling TRS will compete with the BJP, which reportedly is in political ascendance in the state, and the Congress in that election.

Many political pundits are astonished by PK’s political acumen.

“Before the Punjab assembly elections,, he told me Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi would lose both his seats which I didn’t believe then,” says Kidwai, but when the results were declared Prashant was proved right.”

Adds Kidwai, “Prashant Kishor is looking at the Opposition story for 2024, and he is very adaptive in politics.”

Asked if Prashant has no ideology of his own considering his political meanderings, Kidwai says, “It is not right to say such things. It is very unfair to Prashant. Everyone does that in politics. Look at Sharad Pawar, he quit the Congress over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins and later joined hands with Sonia to form the Maharashtra government in 1999. The same holds true for the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party alliance. Today they are a success story.”

“There is no doubt Prashant Kishor is good at his work,” says political analyst Ashutosh. “He is a good salesman. He knows how to brand himself and his track record shows that he has done good work.”

“There is an allegation against Prashant that he is always on the winning side,” adds Ashutosh.

“Mamata Banerjee won the West Bengal assembly election in 2016 without Prashant Kishor’s help and in 2021 she won with his help. The same holds true for Arvind Kejriwal as he won the Delhi assembly election in 2015 without Prashant Kishor and in 2020, he won with Prashant Kishor’s help,” Ashutosh points out.

“And if you look at Modi, he won with Prashant Kishor’s help in 2014, but in 2019 he won with a bigger margin without Prashant Kishor’s help,” Ashutosh adds.

“The day Prashant Kishor makes Rahul Gandhi win elections with his strategy, only then can one understand that he has really proved his worth,” declares Ashutosh.

“In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, Prashant strategised by aligning the Congress with the Samajwadi Party,” Ashutosh reminds us, “but the BJP swept the elections.”

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