Usually, political strategists prefer to remain low key and do all the juggling in the background. But there are key strategists and planners who love to grab the headlines every now and then. Prashant Kishor is one such player, and he’s back in the news with a bang.
For some days now there has been a buzz, about Prashant Kishor offering his help to Mamata Banerjee. Speculation is rife about Kishor strategising for the Trinamool Congress. This has caused much heartburn as Kishor continues to play his role as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s number two in the party as well.
It would be imperative to remember here that Mamata Banerjee is the main adversary for Nitish Kumar’s ally the BJP. The recent election results that portrayed the rising growth of the BJP in her state has caused Mamata Banerjee to take stock of her party’s problems. She has a huge challenge in defending her turf ahead of the Bengal assembly polls in 2021.
Kishor was born in Bihar in 1977, and began his career as a public health activist. For several years prior to his stint in politics, he worked with the United Nations in the health sector, work that included serving with an aid mission in Chad.
Coming to politics, Kishor helped the Gandhi family in state elections early on, even though things didn’t work out too well between him and Rahul Gandhi. The story goes that it was Narendra Modi who saw Kishor’s potential and hired him, initially to work on social sector policies. Kishor later helped Modi in his 2012 Gujarat election campaign, steering him to victory.
From being a political strategist, to a political advisor to a politician, Kishor has also co-authored a book, with journalist Sankarshan Thakur, titled The Brothers Bihari. In it Kishor discusses the factors influencing Indian voters today, their aspirations and what they demand from their leaders. He certainly knows the voter’s pulse and is credited with many firsts that helped bring Modi to power at the centre in 2014.
Kishor’s major strategy plans that fell into place also include Punjab, and later working with Jagan Mohan Reddy who came to power with a huge majority in Andhra Pradesh.
Kishor started his career as a public health activist, serving stints in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. He is married to Jahnavi Das who is a medical doctor from Guwahati and they have a son. Kishor’s work grabbed the attention of the World Health Organisation, which signed him up for a United Nations traineeship in the mid 2000s.
In those days Kishor kept a low profile, working hard to rise swiftly up the rungs of the international health activism circuit. While on a break in India, he made his first connection with the Indian political establishment.
In 2007 he met Rahul Gandhi, then a general secretary in the Indian National Congress and heir apparent to the party’s leadership. Kishor pitched a ‘multi-pronged social sector blueprint’, while Gandhi preferred that the public health advocate focus on his expertise, suggesting that Kishor help build a hospital in Gandhi’s Amethi constituency. Unsatisfied with the scope of this offer, Kishor declined and returned to the UN.
In 2010 the UN assigned Kishor to its aid mission in Chad, where he served as UNICEF’s head of social policy and planning. There he read a Planning Commission report about the poor health indices in India’s backward states, and wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that even the country’s richer states were faring poorly in public health.
Kishor’s report failed to make much of an impact in the PMO, but a copy sent to Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, one of the prosperous states Kishor had studied, proved more fruitful. It is said that Modi was struck by the findings, and following an interview in Gandhinagar around October 2011, he hired Kishor as a social sector policy advisor.
His work with the BJP during the Gujarat elections of 2012, and during the 2014 general election earned Kishor the praise of being the ‘most trusted strategist in the Narendra Modi organisation’. He soon started calling the shots. During the 2014 elections he was credited with creating several marketing and campaigning strategies for the BJP, which included the ‘Chai pe Charcha’ campaign, ‘Manthan’ and other social media interventions.
He founded Citizens for Accountable Governance, a nonprofit organisation that consisted of around 200 young professions from top colleges and companies in the country. They carried out the BJP’s marketing and social media campaign in 2014.
Kishor’s expertise is said to lie in building teams to manage election campaigns professionally. His consultancy services come at a price, for his team believes in being experts at planning and organisation.
Kishor broke away from the BJP in 2015 and reformulated Citizens for Accountable Governance as the Indian Political Action Committee or I-PAC, after the American terminology. He joined Nitish Kumar and strategised the election campaign for his party during the 2015 assembly election in Bihar.
In 2016 Kishor joined the Congress, with the objective of helping Captain Amarinder Singh win the Punjab assembly election. The Congress’s historic win in the state is credited to a large extent to the work done by Kishor and his team.
Also employed by the Congress ahead of the UP assembly election in 2017, he failed to steer the party to victory, and the BJP made sweeping inroads into the state.
Then, Kishor had a small stint with the YSR Congress party in Andhra Pradesh.
His next step was to sort out the Nitish Kumar establishment and give it a shaking.
Analysing the last six years of Kishor’s political career, the graph shows that he works well with known politicians who are already at the helm. His aim is to prod the leader to move up the ladder by leaps and bounds.
There has been a fair amount of bad blood on the table ever since Kishor shifted from Modi to arch-rival Nitish last year. Jumping ship and fraternising with the opposition is not appreciated. But the fact remains that Kishor is driven by his power to spin and win.
It would be well to remember that wherever Kishor goes he becomes one of the most important people in the team, driving strategies and galvanising action. It’s no wonder that he isn’t liked by many. A person who is blunt and offhand can rub people the wrong way. His style of working doesn’t allow scope for meddling or unwanted advice. He works on his own terms – but he produces results.
So, if you are taking a chance with him… Be ready for the results.