A fellow traveller, Prashant Kishor is much more than an election strategist for Nitish and Lalu

By Marya Shakil

It is 6.30 pm on 20 November at 1 Anne Marg and Nitish Kumar's high tea with visiting dignitaries is about to get over. He is surrounded by journalists waiting to congratulate him on his return as the chief minister of Bihar for the fifth time. Kumar had vacated this bungalow, meant for the chief minister of the state, after Jitan Ram Manjhi briefly took over the reins of the state between May 2014 and February 2015 and did not come back to occupy it even after February 2015, when Majhi was unceremoniously dethroned.

Just as he is about to leave for 7 Circular Road, his current residence, Kumar calls for someone - "Prashantji, chaliye chala jaye". The man is Prashant Kishor, who the world recognises as Kumar's strategist and election campaign manager. But today, he appears to be more than just an aide. Kishor walks up to Kumar's car and the two leave together with everyone around wondering just what has the 37-year-old done to a shrewd Hindi heartland politician. Kishor also accompanied Nitish to the swearing-in ceremony. Kumar had reportedly asked his ministers to meet Kishor before the oath-taking ceremony.

 A fellow traveller, Prashant Kishor is much more than an election strategist for Nitish and Lalu

Prshant Kishor (L) with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Image courtesy Marya Shakil

From crafting larger strategy to deciding menu of the high tea to supervising the seating arrangement of the VIPs in Gandhi Maidan, Kumar had briefed his officers to make Kishor the point person. Often the Janta Dal(U) leaders would joke that in a big family wedding the father often delegated all the key responsibilities to his son.

For eight months now Prashant Kishor has been functioning out of 7 Circular Road, having breakfast and other meals with Kumar and visiting 10 Circular Road almost everyday to spend some time with Lalu Prasad Yadav, the key alliance figure.

Sources in the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) privy to Kishor's equation with Yadav say that he was the only one that Yadav communicated with during the course of the elections on a daily basis. "Jaiye, aap par chodte hain" - I leave it to you (to decide) was said to be the common refrain in negotiations over seat-sharing. Both the leaders completely trusted Kishor for sorting things out for them. It was very difficult for Yadav to trust him initially. That's what an RJD leader told this reporter. When Kishor was roped in as a strategist for Kumar he was a rank outsider. But how the unlikely relationship between Kishor and Yadav flourished is a story worth writing about in detail.

One day, sources say, Yadav took Kishor to meet his family. It was way past the midnight. He told his wife, Rabri Devi and two sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi, that, "After him (Yadav) the only man that the family should trust and turn to for advice is Kishor." He even ensured that the party symbols given to candidates for contesting will be given to his sons by Kishor. Lalu Yadav even made senior party leaders sit and listen to Kishor and his strategies. Sources in the party also say that a night before the swearing in ceremony on 20th, Kishor got a frantic call from Yadav to pacify his daughters who too wanted their share in the power that has eluded the family for over a decade and a possible ministerial berth. Party leaders feel that the 37-year-old Prashant perhaps could have a dialogue with the next generation of Yadav family better.

During the course of a meeting in Delhi in July, Kumar had told this reporter that Prashant is a Bihari who understands the state very well, referring to his stint in the UN for the Pulse Polio campaign. Kumar appeared confident of the choice he made in Kishor. JD(U) sources say that today Nitish trusts Prashant for almost everything, and even if he moves out of Patna for other ventures in life he will continue to be more than just his confidante. In fact, a party leader told this reporter that Kumar got quite anxious a day after the election results were announced as Kishor was not by his side in Patna. He was traveling to Delhi to spend time with his family on Diwali. 'Prashant was told to return to his family in Patna' said a person privy to this incident.

On the other hand, calls were being made to him from the Yadav residence too as the RJD supremo wanted both his sons to be inducted in the cabinet. RJD leaders observe that Yadav has not agreed to any individual in such a short span of time, particularly with a man who was strategising for the larger alliance, the Mahagathbandhan, and not for him.

Kishor today is also not liked by several JD(U) and RJD leaders as most of those who were dropped from the cabinet hold him responsible for their predicament. RJD sources say it was almost unthinkable for Lalu Yadav to drop Surendra Yadav, a Yadav strongman from Magadh region who has been extremely close to him. For Nitish Kumar it was difficult to drop Shyam Rajak, a Dalit leader who had enjoyed proximity with the CM. Both leaders though appear to have been convinced to think beyond immediate exigencies and focus on a larger political horizon.

CNN-IBN, Associate Political Editor and Anchor, Marya Shakil.

CNN-IBN, Associate Political Editor and Anchor, Marya Shakil.

In a country/political culture where party/organisation begins well after where the family end, relations of blood or those forged by matrimony almost always trump relations based on shared vision and trust. Like the great family-owned business houses of India, the political class tends to trust its gene pool more than outside acumen and ability. If the Bihar Assembly Election and the role of Prashant Kishor are any indicator, then this could be changing.

From being an election strategist to a government advisor to an event manager to a family counsellor - today, as Kishor will inevitably be planning for his next project, Bihar has witnessed rise of two sons on the surface. Behind the curtains often spilling on the surface is the return of a prodigal son, this one for Nitish Kumar.

Marya Shakil is Associate Political Editor and Anchor with CNN-IBN.

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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2015 17:06:21 IST