There is a certain echo chamber that Delhi has created around itself, and once you penetrate it you are accepted. Not just by the political elite, but the media, the intellectuals and the activists including those who take pride in not being part of that coveted lot to begin with. As someone who has spent decades in the capital city of India one has seen this happen over and over again. And it becomes easier for those who have spent some time abroad, speak English and Hindi (dialects now add the tinge of romance) and have returned with some expertise up their sleeve. A stint in the United Nations for instance counts for a lot with the creators, owners and manipulators of this echo chamber, and they then together create a buzz around that individual that launches him over and above his basic capabilities.

This writer has a string of names but the focus of this article is Prashant Kishor, the man who was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party into the political arena with everyone rushing to embrace him regardless of their political affiliations. His claim to fame was ten years at the UN. And his return was quickly embraced by the BJP that he joined — pro bono of course!— as an election reader. Something like the traditional horse whisperer who the world was told was managing the strategy of the BJP as per his readings of each and every constituency. Not a difficult task in that constituency profiling based on extensive data is available in plenty for which of course he hired a team. And the results are then expected to help the political party decide on its candidate as per the demography and the past performance of all contenders in the particular seat. Something that political parties and candidates in the field know on the back of their hands but in this modern age are outshone by excel sheets and graphs.

Kishor did come up with some novel ideas, in a campaign that was credited to him. ‘Chai par charcha’, ' Run for Unity 'were all part of this campaign that was high voltage to say the least. To cut a long story short the BJP won resoundingly, and along with its compliant media projected Kishor as the brainchild in the ‘war room’. He entered the echo chamber with ease, and was made much of by all those who formed the Establishment in India. Incidentally his first stint as a political strategist was also for Narendra Modi in 2011 where he reportedly helped him to be re-elected as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. However, it was the Lok Sabha elections that had catapulted him to fame.

So much so that the opposition leaders perked up, and those critical of the BJP also started accepting Kishor’s prowess and seeking his attention. That's how the Echo chamber works, success, projection, acceptance that turns into clamour.

As should have been expected Kishor left the BJP and made his availability known to the Opposition parties. He said that he was a professional for hire, and did not support any one or the other party. And that he was willing to work and plot the elections for any leader who hired him. Everyone believed him and his initial proximity to Modi and the BJP was completely discarded from memory. Many queued up and one of the lucky ones was Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar who brought him into Bihar in 2015. And later elevated him as his advisor for planning and programme implementation. This writer had covered the elections and found little of Kishor inspired strategy on the ground but of course those in actual play knew better. However, few politicians had heard of him in Patna at the time as perhaps he had taken his job very seriously, and not come out of the ‘war room’.

By the way emulation is also a characteristic of the Echo chamber with all political parties usurping the BJP term simply because it was seen as synonymous with success.

Mid election Kishore was sent to Delhi where Nitish Kumar loyalist and JD(U) leader K.C.Tyagi invited a few journalists for a close encounter with Kishor. We all turned up. He appeared rather simple, and persistent questioning by the senior journalists did not throw up a whiz kid with deep knowledge and a head for statistics and strategy. A few of us were quizzical, expressing it in our reports, but largely the journalists did not puncture any balloons that such senior politicians had floated. He went on to work with other political parties, the list including AAP, DMK, TMC.

He tried to work at the national level with the Congress party but despite the many interactions this fell through. A senior Congress leader told this reporter that ‘this was perhaps our best decision’ but when asked to explain in quotable terms he laughed and said, ‘you know what I am saying what is there to spell out.” Anyways Kishor stayed out of the party, and then joined hands with lawyer Prashant Bhushan and others to float a people's movement. He started meeting groups of intellectuals in Delhi, and spoke of the need for a political movement to influence the elections. Of course he brought in his analysis of the political scenario that this writer found naive, for want of a more critical word. Somewhere in 2021-2022 Kishor decided to quit work as a political strategist and go, as he said in a tweet, to the “Real masters, the people”. He also started a 3000 km padyatra that did not really create waves.

Clearly Delhi’s influential echo chamber had defined a role for Kishor as a political strategist and was not particularly happy seeing him in the role of a politician. He understood this and re-emerged, after a brief hiatus, during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in his old avatar. And was embraced again by the Establishment as the poll soothsayer, appearing on all the embedded media, giving interviews to each and all, predicting a huge victory for the BJP and doom for the Opposition. On and on, a sort of psychological warfare that spilt out of the chamber to influence even those critical of the BJP. No one questioned him, he spoke his mind, taking the BJP seats to new electoral heights with every passing word. He was so confident that he even gave an interview to Karan Thapar, but lost his temper when accosted with real questions that veteran journalists not sold or bought still tend to ask. This did dent his image somewhat, and led to a burst of humour on the social media. But then his figures were imprinted on Delhi’s psyche, with the Echo Chamber unquestioning accepting his ‘verdict’.

This chapter has not closed. So let us wait for Prashant Kishor’s next avatar.