The quintessential outsider in Indian politics at first, he became an influential insider who worked with and shaped the electoral campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and half a dozen chief ministers and regional satraps in the last nine years.
After years of being one of the most sought-after backroom strategists of this generation, he has signalled his readiness to re-enter the political ring as a player. Prashant Kishor, the election strategist who has crafted the electoral victories of leaders of all political hues and ideologies, is the chief guest at Express e-Adda on Tuesday.
Kishor, the founder of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), spent some years in Africa as a public health professional with the United Nations. He entered the Indian political scene in 2011 when he began working for Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat. He was thrust into the limelight a couple of years later after helping Modi shape his 2014 prime ministerial campaign. Since then, he has popularised political spin and image makeovers as legitimate campaign tools.
Kishor — known as PK — is considered to be the brain behind campaigns ranging from “Brand Modi” and “Beta Kejriwal” to the Trinamool Congress’s “Banglar Gorbo Mamata” and “Didi ke Bolo”. He has also designed campaigns for former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh (Halke Vich Captain and Coffee with Captain), Andhra CM Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Jaganna’s Navratnalu), and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (Phir Se, Nitishe and Saat Nishchay). He also worked on the re-branding of Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin.
These personalities are distinct and their politics poles apart, but all have tasted success with Kishor by their side. He has had his share of failures too — his campaign strategies for the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 did not click. And recently, the Trinamool Congress’s big push in Goa with him as the strategist came a cropper.
Kishor is now in the news because of his much-talked-about dealings with the Congress — he decided against joining the party — and his plans. If he does enter politics, it will be his second innings. In September 2018, after having helped Nitish Kumar return to power as part of the Mahagathbandhan, Kishor joined the JD(U). He was appointed the party’s national vice-president, in effect the No. 2, before they parted ways in 2020.
Last week, Kishor announced in Patna that he would launch a 3,000-km padayatra from the Gandhi Ashram in Champaran on October 2. He said he intends to create a platform of like-minded people to build on the idea of “Jan Suraaj (good governance)” aimed at transforming Bihar. The strategist said he was in touch with about 17,000-18,000 people who share his vision for Bihar.
At the e-Adda, Kishor will be in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, The Indian Express. The Express Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by The Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change. When the discussions moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic, Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Education Ramesh Pokhriyal, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, and former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian were among the guests at e-Adda.
Prominent guests at past editions of Express Adda include Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Nobel laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian, cancer specialist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, and cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara.