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Can Prashant Kishor do it again, this time for the Congress?

In the first installment of a two-part series, Business Standard analyses the style and strategy of the man who did the magic for Narendra Modi and then Nitish Kumar and whom the Congress has now hire

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Prashant Kishor

Kavita Chowdhury  |  New Delhi 

Prashant Kishor
Prashant Kishor. Photo: Wikipedia

At the Congress party's strategy meetings for the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab polls, a tall, spectacled and kurta-clad figure sat in attentive silence for four hours, listening to as many as 40 leaders in each meeting, taking copious notes. None questioned the presence of this 'outsider' at these closed-door sessions. For, the man in question, Prashant Kishor or PK, has a biodata showing delivery of landslide victories for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014 and Nitish Kumar's alliance in Bihar. He's now taken on the seemingly impossible task of securing Congress wins in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2017.

Read more from our special coverage on "PRASHANT KISHOR"

Thus far, he's known as having taken only "winning projects". Many believe Kishor's record would be dented in UP, where the Congress has been out of power for 27 years. In Punjab, they say, there might be a chance with 'Captain' Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial face. Kishor appears confident and undeterred. At a meeting of UP Congress Committee and district chiefs in Lucknow, earlier this month, he'd said: "Mein yahaan Congress ki seat badhane nahi aaaya hoon, Congress ko jeetane aaya hoon (I haven't come here to merely increase the Congress tally; I have come here to make the Congress win)." What's his formula? His style had been to work with a personality, a face, around whom an entire poll campaign is built. As with Modi in 2014 and Nitish Kumar in 2015. For the coming polls, he will not change his tested template. For Punjab, where his team has begun some groundwork, party sources disclose he has come up with Punjab da Captain, Captain da Punjab. Kishor is known for outwitting the opponents with fresh communication and marketing strategies. As a rule, he never repeats his tactics.

Social media publicity and 3D hologram videoscreens projecting Modi worked as winning tools in 2014. In the Bihar campaign, there was more of grassroot interaction. Training and deputing college students to remote villages on cycles mounted with hoardings listing the seven poll promises of Nitish Kumar clicked with the masses. The Kishor team invested in large billboards in Patna but not a single television ad was put out. "To dismiss Kishor as another marketing and communication guy would be wrong," says a party insider in the know of things. "The fact that he does not have any fixed job description and his only remit is to win the state (Punjab, UP) speaks volumes about the kind of confidence the leadership reposes in him," says the leader. Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi himself has been overheard saying he has known Kishor for long. Kishor had worked with Gandhi in Amethi, way back in 2007, when he was still a public health activist, taking a break from a job at the United Nations. Insiders say for the grand old party with its back against the wall, Kishor seemed the man for the job. His record so far shows, he does whatever it takes to make his client win, with innovative strategies and sharp election management skills. The party is also banking on Kishore's ability to come up with realtime arsenal, especially in a state as politically sensitive as UP. His 'chai pe charcha' gambit to foil Mani Shankar Aiyar's jibe at Modi as a 'chaiwallah' was as effective as the strategy to make Janata Dal (United) workers send 100,000 samples of their (Bihari ) strands of hair to counter Modi's dig at Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar's 'DNA being faulty'. Ahead Kishor is also far from being the management type of executive who is politically naive. At that meeting in Lucknow, he also made it amply clear to UP Congressmen that the party would have no tie-ups with regional parties, Samajwadi or Bahujan Samaj Party. "I believe 100 per cent the Congress can win UP," Kishor asserted confidently and exhorted Congressmen to do the same. Party circles are abuzz that Kishor might manage to get Priyanka Gandhi to be the Congress' face in UP. And, thereafter, successfully galvanise the election campaign around her. The party is keeping its cards close to its chest, saying there's still a year before the polls and lots could happen till then. While seniors are tightlipped on the issue, they concede the lack of an acceptable face in UP is a major problem.

KNOW THE MAN
  • Born in 1977; his father was a doctor in Bhojpur district in Bihar
  • Started his career as a public heath activist, worked on the pulse polio campaign in Bihar and the HIV AIDS awareness campaign in Andhra Pradesh
  • Worked with the United Nations (UN) for close to a decade
  • In 2007, on a break from the UN, he worked briefly with Rahul Gandhi in Amethi
  • 2010: Deputed to UN aid mission in Chad, West Africa; headed UNICEF's Social Policy and Planning
  • 2011: Met then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi & assisted him successfully on the 2012 Gujarat Assembly poll campaign (operated out of the CM's house)
  • 2012: Formed the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) an election management consultancy group which managed the Lok Sabha 2014 polls for Narendra Modi & BJP
  • 2015: CAG gave way to Indian Political Awareness Committee (IPAC) which managed the Bihar elections for Nitish Kumar and the Grand Alliance
  • 2016: IPAC, with Kishor as mentor, takes charge to help the Congress win 2017 polls in Punjab and UP

IMPRESSIONS

Winning strategies For Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha 2014 polls
  • Chai pe charcha: A hugely successful outreach programme for Modi
  • 3D hologram rallies: Bharat Vijay rallies from where Modi's speech was projected to 100 villages
  • Slogans: Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi
For Nitish Kumar in 2015
  • Bihari ya Bahari: pitting Nitish Kumar against the outsider (bahari) Modi
  • Swabhimaan Rally: that repeatedly invoked the Bihari (asmita) pride
  • Badh Chala Bihar campaign: Vans projecting long-term vision for Bihar's development, dispatched to remote villages

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First Published: Mon, March 28 2016. 09:45 IST
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