What Is Prashant Kishor Upto? Could Be Much More Than Merely Helping Politicians In Their Electoral Campaigns

What Is Prashant Kishor Upto? Could Be Much More Than Merely Helping Politicians In Their Electoral Campaigns

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Feb 21, 2022 02:33 PM +05:30 IST
What Is Prashant Kishor Upto? Could Be Much More Than Merely Helping Politicians In Their Electoral CampaignsPrashant Kishor with Nitish Kumar in happier times (Pic via twitter)
  • Parties in Goa have already raised red flags about allegedly dubious data collection by I-PAC.

Political strategist Prashant Kishor’s two-hour-long meeting with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Saturday, has triggered intense speculation in political circles about the latter’s next move.

Some political pundits have even offered a rather simplistic explanation: that cracks have started appearing in the ruling BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance in Bihar and Nitish Kumar is keeping open the possibility of joining a ‘third front’ before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

According to these pundits, Prashant Kishor (‘PK’ as he is commonly called) has been trying to get regional parties on a common platform as a viable alternative to the BJP-led NDA at the Centre.

But they are, in all probability, way off the mark. It would be completely naive to take Prashant Kishor and his utterances at face value. There is, actually, much more about him and his organisation--the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC)--than what meets the eye.

Kishor has good ties with politicians across the spectrum and has worked with virtually all parties, even though he is most well-known for the Trinamool’s spectacular victory in the Assembly elections in Bengal last year. PK is, though, unfairly credited for that victory. But that is another story.

That PK operates at various levels, and even what may seem to the casual observer as at cross-purposes, is not known to many. But one inkling of that came in the form of a statement made by Nitish Kumar after he sacked PK from the JD(U) in January 2020.

PK, and another JD(U) leader Pavan Varma, were sacked from the JD(U) after they started criticising the party and Nitish Kumar for his support to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Parliament.

Speaking to reporters, Nitish Kumar had said at the time of sacking PK that Amit Shah had asked him (Kumar) to induct PK into the JD(U) (read this). That would have come across as very surprising since PK had a fallout with the BJP, especially its top leadership, immediately after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that brought Narendra Modi to power.

According to BJP sources, PK wanted to embed his I-PAC into the policy-making, implementation and supervisory framework of the Union Government after he helped the BJP leadership design and implement the party’s 2014 election campaign.

In other words, PK wanted an extra-Constitutional role for his I-PAC, exactly what Mamata Banerjee has allowed in Bengal after she signed a deal with PK in mid-2019 (read this).

PK, it is learnt, was firmly rebuffed by the BJP central leadership (including Amit Shah, who was the BJP national president at that time). Kishor was told that he or his outfit would have no role in governance.

That is reported to have made PK bitter and he turned against the BJP. He had reportedly told people close to him that he would henceforth work with all non-BJP parties and help them defeat the saffron party in various states and, eventually, at the Centre in 2019.

PK was instrumental in firming up an alliance (the mahagathbandhan) between Lalu Yadav’s RJD and the JD(U) before the 2015 Assembly polls in Bihar. PK designed the electoral campaign for the mahagathbandhan, which swept to power in the state that year.

The BJP, which Kumar had deserted after the saffron party named Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, was reduced to a bitter opposition party in Bihar.

Kumar’s political ‘affair’ with the RJD did not last long and he walked out of the mahagathbandhan in 2017 to join hands with the BJP again. PK, it is rumoured, played a major role in the divorce between JD(U) and the RJD-led mahagathbandhan. That raised many eyebrows since PK had vowed to work against the BJP all over the country.

What thus came as a major surprise was Nitish Kumar’s admission that it was Amit Shah who had requested him (Kumar) to take PK into the JD(U). “Do you know how he joined my party? Amit Shah asked me to induct him,” Kumar was quoted as telling reporters.

Since his sacking from the JD(U), PK has worked with virtually all parties across the political spectrum, including the Congress.

But PK is much more than a political strategist. It is a different matter though none of the electoral victories of various political parties he worked with, including the BJP’s in 2014, can be attributed majorly to him.

PK, say some keen political observers, actually has the knack of signing contracts with whichever party has the brightest prospects. He then helps those parties fine-tune their election campaigns, especially their social media campaigns, and tries to walk away with all the credit.

But PK’s real agenda could well be something different. Once again, an inkling about this came during the campaign for the Assembly polls in Goa. After the big win (of the Trinamool) in the Bengal Assembly polls, PK was entrusted with the responsibility of taking the party beyond Bengal’s boundaries.

As he has been doing in other states, PK deployed his I-PAC to conduct extensive and even intrusive surveys at the grassroots level in Goa. Ostensibly to gather data on the profile of Goa’s electorate in order to frame a winning strategy for the Trinamool in that coastal state.

Innumerable I-PAC teams fanned out all over Goa and started going door-to-door to collect data. The I-PAC also is also reported to have collected personal details of large sections of the state’s electorate through questionable means.

For instance, I-PAC teams handed out application forms to women and youth for doles that the Trinamool had promised to Goenkars in its manifesto. Gullible people, especially in the rural or semi-urban areas, were promised these doles (like financial aid for women or allowances for unemployed) “once the Trinamool comes to power”. They were asked to fill the forms as a pre-registration for availing these handouts.

Unwittingly, tens of thousands of people gave out their personal details, like their Aadhar and PAN card number, bank details etc to I-PAC.

The Congress, and its ally the Goa Forward Party raised the red flag about this dubious data collection by I-PAC and asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to conduct an enquiry into this ‘shadowy’ data mining.

And therein, most probably, lies the answer. Goa Congress general secretary Sunil Kawthankar alleged that the I-PAC had been collecting data in a “dubious manner”. Other politicians cutting across party lines agree.

The I-PAC has collected a treasure trove of data in all states it has, and is, working in.

Data is wealth. So is it that I-PAC has actually been mining data in many states across the country for purposes other than political?

The answer, as Bob Dylan would have said, is blowing in the wind. PK’s commitment to a chimeral ‘third front’ is, say some political observers, suspect.

PK’s association with the Trinamool, whose chief (Mamata Banerjee) has belatedly realised that it does not need the strategist to win elections, has reportedly entered its last chapter. I-PAC has already mined a humongous amount of data from Bengal.

I-PAC’s ‘Mission Bengal’ has been accomplished. And if the genuine suspicions of political observers and security analysts are given credence to, I-PAC may well be sitting on a gigantic treasure trove of data.

These statistics and information is what not only manufacturing and marketing entities in the private sector, but also many international agencies, would give an arm and a leg for. So is that what PK’s game is all about?

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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