Bihar is not new territory for Prashant Kishor, but the strategist and soon-to-be politician is certainly in unchartered waters where the ebb and flow of caste politics decides electoral fortunes.
Leaders like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav have fished well in these waters for the last 30 years, and PK, as Kishor is known in political circles, understands this all too well.
After announcing Bihar as his battleground, the political strategist is set to undertake a 3,000 km padyatra starting from Gandhi Ashram in Pashchimi Champaran to meet people belonging to different cross-sections of the society and form a political party if their response is positive.
Political pundits in Bihar who have been observing PK’s work from close quarters since 2015 are quick to surmise that he is just trying to buy time before 2024 Lok Sabha elections and 2025 Bihar elections.
The timeframe should be sufficient for Kishor to gauge in depth the public mood and caste combinations that make or break governments in the state.
For now, Kishor is on a solo quest, maintaining equal distance from both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. He has been careful not to dismiss the work done by Nitish Kumar, who is hailed as the ‘Vikas Purush’ in Bihar. He maintains that Dalits and the poor were empowered during Lalu’s rule and that Nitish brought about the overall development of Bihar.
So how does Kishor plan to challenge the status quo? A pitch for change and a promise to see Bihar on the list of developed states is likely. But that requires hardcore political acumen and long-term commitment.
Those who have been privy to closed-door meetings with Kishor say the latter is not a problem as the IPAC founder is in it for the long haul. But Kishor is yet to cement his image as that of a politician.
His only political stint so far has been with the ruling JD(U), but he developed sharp differences with Nitish Kumar over the issues National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), both pushed hard by ally BJP.
In the JD(U), Kishor could not shape his image as a party leader and for no dearth of opportunities. His attempt to join the Congress also fizzled out as the party reportedly did not respond favourably to his demand of a senior position.
Kishor belongs to an upper caste family from Bihar and is ready to start from scratch but lacks hands-on experience of forming a party or engineering a movement like AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal.
The last time Bihar saw the emergence of a mass movement was in 1974 when Jai Prakash Narayan’s andolan posted a formidable challenge to Indira Gandhi. Lalu and Nitish are the by-products of that movement and have carried lessons from that era in their successful political careers.
But what Kishor has going for himself is timing. Ramvilas Paswan is no more, Lalu is battling health issues and Nitish is nearing the final phase of this career. Promising a new Bihar, Kishor is trying to woo 58% young voters in the state-. And it will be a three-way fight for that promise if it comes to it as Kishor can ill-afford to discount RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav or a resurgent BJP.