The Brand Makers of Indian Politics

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Photo: Sonu Kishan
Photo: Sonu Kishan

Following the colossal defeat of the UPA in the 2014 General Election, all eyes were pinned on the Bihar polls, which saw the BJP recieve a similar drubbing. Behind both the BJP’s 2014 win and its defeat in Bihar this year, there is a common factor: political strategy planner Prashant Kishor and his team of professionals. By carefully and successfully constructing Narendra Modi’s image last year and then giving the same service to ally turned political rival Nitish Kumar in Bihar this year, Kishor seems to have ushered in a new era of campaign management in the country. This suggests that no matter which political party wins, the real driver of success in national level politics today, is a sophisticated campaign management strategy driven by skilled professionals. The success of this phenomena reveals that politics, in an increasingly ‘brand- driven’ environment, can be given the perfect commodity treatment.

Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), Prashant Kishor’s team during the 2014 General Election, was hailed as an integral part of the massive campaign machinery surrounding Modi. Parallels could directly be drawn between presidential elections in the US and the candidate-centric political campaign run by CAG. Social media, technology and data driven-analysis apart from several other key factors were used in a mammoth never-seen-before way. Following the grand success and rumoured fallout with BJP party president Amit Shah, Kishor drew himself into the uncharted of strategic campaign management in Bihar.

In 2015, Kishor formed the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), which built the strategy for Nitish’s campaign in the Bihar election. Vinesh Chandel, one of the directors at IPAC, talks about how they managed to get into the thick of things in Bihar. “To get a mandate from the senior most leader and to convince him of our ideas wasn’t that difficult. On the day we went to pitch our idea, we made a thorough presentation and laid our entire plan from start to finish. It was obviously dynamic in nature. To get a mandate from the leader himself helped us a lot. From as early as March–April, we were working for nearly 16 hours a day.

To make the local leaders ready for engaging in a more methodical approach was tough. We had campaigns like Har Ghar Dastak, where we resorted to oldfashioned door-to-door campaigning that was extremely successful. That is where these guys warmed up to our methods,” he says.

For Kishor, analysing traditional politics and adapting to the region and juxtaposing it with his own strategy, is what has worked in his favour so far. “Politically, elections are very arbitrary and personality driven,” says Arjun Dutta, a core team member at ipac. “The one thing that we guys have been doing well, especially Prashant, is to bring order and consistency in the whole campaign. We maintained a generic consistency, every voting day we created war rooms, our concept was very data driven and we also had booth agents assessing booth level demographics.”

After having lost out on charismatic Kishor, Amit Shah, who was BJP’s key planner in the Bihar elections, hired a similar team led by Rajya Sabha MP Ravindra Kishore Sinha’s Security and Intelligence Services (SIS). However, it wasn’t able to measure upto the ipac backed Grand Alliance. In a state like Bihar, various socio political aspects come into play while running a systematic political campaign. The campaign by IPAC did present its fair share of challenges. Many still feel that the political campaign strategy did not have the kind of decisive role as is being reported in the media.

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