Minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Patna to address a rally in north Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district on July 25, a volley of questions was fired at him from chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Twitter handle. Ruffled by the ploy, Modi began his speech by criticising the tweets, walking into a trap devised by the chief minister’s principal election strategist.
Meet 38-year-old Prashant Kishor, the man who designed Modi’s high-tech and highly successful campaign for last year’s parliamentary polls but crossed over to Nitish Kumar and set up an election offensive that captured Bihar’s imagination.
“Having worked closely with him during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, we knew the PM’s mind. The battle is half won, if one can rattle him,” Kishor told HT during the Bihar election. “He walked into our trap. Instead of saying what he wanted to, he started his speech by replying to our tweets.”
Kishor flooded roads leading to the PM’s rally venue in Muzaffarpur with Nitish Kumar’s posters. His tactics forced BJP chief Amit Shah to camp in Gaya district for a couple of days ahead of an August 9 Modi rally to ensure Kishor did not play any mischief.
Unlike the Lok Sabha campaign, Modi could not dictate the campaign discourse. Every time he would address a rally, Nitish would counter his claims with facts that emerged in research done by Kishor’s war room in a building near Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.
“Our purpose was limited: do not allow a Modi hype to build,” said Kishor, a former UN health officer.
People close to him have told HT that Kishor does not care much for ideology or parties. He prefers leaders who ‘deliver’ and strongly feels Indian elections will continue to turn more presidential.
“People think of parties as too vague and amorphous. They want accountability. And can hold leaders for promises they have made,” said a source.
And so he began working to turn the Bihar election into a presidential contest. Brand Nitish was reinforced. He coined catchy slogans like “Bihar me bahaar ho, Nitish Kumar ho”.
When the Prime Minister announced a financial package for the state, hundreds of JD(U) posters came up across Bihar, urging people to not fall for the “eyewash” and ensure Nitish’s victory.
Kishor’s team distributed 30 cycles to dedicated workers in every assembly constituency, each of them covering 50 houses every day. Over the next ten days, these cyclists went to 15,000 houses in every constituency, handing personal letters from Kumar and playing out his speech on mobile phones.
The Ghar Ghar Dastak outreach campaign and sending DNA samples to the Prime Minister’s Office were aimed at stoking Bihari pride.
When Lalu and Nitish were planning joint rallies, Kishor prevailed upon them to shun the idea. The leaders agreed and campaigned separately, covering 18-20 smaller public meetings every day each with a turnout of 5,000-plus people.
When the poll results were announced on Sunday, apart from a surge in the clout of Nitish and Lalu, Kishor too surfaced as a bigger brand. The man with the Midas touch had once again shaped the outcome of an important Indian election through his master strokes, meticulous planning and implementation.
International assignments have also started pouring in. In Tanzania, where elections just got over, the Kishor-founded Indian People’s Action Committee (IPAC) provided consultancy services to the wining Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Party.
“The world noticed the skills of this man who devised the key facets of Modi’s Lok Sabha campaign,” said one of his colleagues. The Grand Alliance win cements his position further in the sector.”
(With inputs from HTC in Delhi)