He used to wear tight jeans and T-shirts until last year, when he traded it for the typical neta get-up of spotless white kurta pyjama. Then, as now, he has had an air of self-importance about him. For a United Nations health official who befriended then Chief Minister Narendra Modi ahead of Gujarat’s 2012 Assembly elections, Prashant Kishor would soon win the trust of the BJP strongman and earn himself name, fame and success over the next two years in the run-up to the high-wattage campaign for the 2014 General Election. Suddenly, the idea of a poll strategist acquired a new meaning, and Kishor, who by his own confession is a Brahmin from Buxar, Bihar, found—or rather projected—himself in the league of presidential spinmeisters of the US such as David Axelrod and Joel Benenson.
Kishor has won praise for the meticulous execution of whatever he’s been assigned to do, especially for his leadership of the strangely titled CAG, Citizens for Accountable Governance, which brought together young management graduates and techies to manage data and coordinate major election campaigns (mainly via the web but also offline). After Modi’s resounding victory in 2014, Kishor emerged as a wunderkind of sorts, a strategist who had steered the leader’s ambitious, hi-tech war room, one that had no parallel in Indian electoral history. In the months before the win, Kishor’s easy access to the Chief Minister’s Office in Gandhinagar had been the talk of the town. That the cautious Modi was on such friendly terms with him took many by surprise. Kishor made the most of it. He walked around key offices of Gandhinagar, flexing muscle with an air of studied indifference, his casuals making no effort to conceal his squat gym physique.
In hindsight, it is safe to say that Kishor’s ‘reign’ of sorts began around the time when current BJP President Amit Shah was banished from the state during the erstwhile UPA regime at the Centre, and that his influence over Modi began to wane with Shah’s return to the scheme of things around the newly elected Prime Minister in mid-2014. Soon, Kishor would find his access to Modi restricted, leaving him and his team of cheerful brainiacs in the lurch. Much to his despair, BJP leaders, who used to look up to him with awe for his proximity to Modi, read the new party chief’s mind and began to refer to him as a ‘vendor’, one who was good at his job, as some would grudgingly grant.
Kishor, who had by then acquired a halo and began carping that things were ‘not going as planned’, perhaps felt shortchanged. In private chats, he had started grumbling that the Modi Government was not delivering on the pre-poll promises of what he claimed was a presidential sort of campaign. While he had indeed worked hard for the victory, RSS workers at the grassroots had operated like a well-oiled machine, too. But he spoke as if he had a special claim to the credit; Modi, he began telling colleagues and journalists, wasn’t living up to his expectations.