Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is the man of the moment, yet again, after scripting what is likely to be a dominant win for Mamata Banerjee in a Bengal election tipped as a close race with the BJP.
However, amid all the Bengal buzz there is one other victory for Mr Kishor and his I-PAC in the 2021 Assembly elections; one that has flown under the radar somewhat, but which is no less significant.
The DMK-Congress alliance is set to return to power in Tamil Nadu after a decade in the wilderness, and Mr Kishor is the strategist behind that campaign too.
Asked which of his two wins was more difficult, Mr Kishor laughed and said they were both equally challenging, and that the nature of the results indicated this.
“It (the Tamil Nadu election) wasn’t easy at all… no election is easy. Tamil Nadu had its own challenges… the language, the culture, the caste system, the politics…” Mr Kishor told NDTV.
“Lot of people thought Tamil Nadu was a cakewalk… go and you will have two-thirds majority. Look at the numbers… that is not happening. But in Bengal people said it will be difficult and you won’t get big numbers.. see what is happening,” he said.
“It only looks easy to those who sit outside in Delhi or somewhere else, but when you have a formidable opponent like the BJP, it is very difficult,” he added.
Trends show the DMK and its allies ahead in 140+ seats. The ruling AIADMK, with whom familiar foes BJP has allied, is ahead in 90-odd seats. The majority mark in the southern state is 118.
The southern state has traditionally ping-ponged between the DMK and the AIADMK, with national parties like the Congress and the BJP reduced to minor players.
This was also the first Assembly election after the deaths of the AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa and the DMK’s M Karunanidhi – former chief ministers and iconic figures in the state’s political landscape.
A major challenge for Mr Kishor was in re-branding Mr Karunanidhi’s son – current party boss MK Stalin, whose only previous election win was the 2019 Lok Sabha poll – as a potential chief minister.
The campaign also featured a thorny issue – working with the Congress.
Mr Kishor played a big role in helping the Congress win Punjab in 2017 but that was preceded by a falling out with the party in UP; he walked out, reportedly over differences in strategy, in late 2016.
Relations between the two have been frosty since, with Mr Kishor turning down an offer from the party’s Madhya Pradesh unit to run its campaign for the June 2020 bypolls.
Mr Kishor has, however, signed on for another stint in Punjab; Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted in March that the I-PAC boss had signed as “principal advisor” ahead of elections in 2022.