In 2014, Political Campaigns in India witnessed a corporate style makeover. Leading this new wave of political strategising and marketing was Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a cohort of young professionals who decided to change the face of electioneering in India forever. They launched their first campaign centered on building Narendra Modi’s brand among the youngsters of the nation. Later, in 2015, CAG (re-organised as Indian Political Action Committee or I-PAC) paved the way for political entrepreneurship in India. After I-PAC led the way, several firms like Cambridge Analytica (CA), Association for Billion Minds (ABM), ACT, PoliticalEDGE, Smart Neta and Jarvis emerged in India, over the last few years, to act as consultants for political parties.
Most political consulting firms including global leaders like Global Strategy Group, GMMB, and Cambridge Analytica, provide data-driven campaign services. They operate primarily on digital platforms and work from the perspective of digital marketers and surveyors and connect directly with their target audience. But, on-ground election management is one of the most challenging and exhausting processes in any election campaign, especially in elections across India. I-PAC has excelled in both of these processes, with outstanding management skills which led them to victories in four consecutive elections except a loss in Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017.
Though these firms manage elections on various media, senior politicians have always been skeptical in incorporating such third party entities to take control over elections till the booth level. Due to autonomy in handling political affairs and seat selection, such methods were successful in winning elections continuously. But, the skeptical forces miserably fail while taking control over the data-driven strategies proposed by consultants.
At the same time, most firms in India have become PR agencies that run digital campaigns for clients, rather than consulting with them. Those firms recruit young minds towards changing the way elections are contested, while tying to get our nation’s enormous electorate involved as active participants in the electoral process. Field teams have been deployed at several regions of the country to understand the needs and grievances of the people, which is what most politicians fail to address to a large extent. For instance, though energetic young minds with better understanding of politics are the ones designing campaigns in I-PAC, political strategist Prashant Kishor acts as a mentor to the organisation and ensures the entire team is on the right wavelength of present-day context. Furthermore, he helps liaison between the leaders and I-PAC to ensure a proper fusion of traditional politics with modern methods, while contesting the election campaigns.
When asked about the rumours of working with the BJP for the 2019 General Elections, I-PAC claims that it is the time for the youth of this nation to decide who should be their leader for 2019.
In 2014, it was a political wave towards development across the sectors. And now a Senior BJP leader, Subramanian Swamy, claims in an interview to The Quint that elections are won on ‘emotions’ and can never be won on economic performance.
Now, at such a scenario, consultants can’t work in contradiction to what their client plans to achieve during the elections. This change in the state of Indian Politics raises a question: will political consulting change the way political parties contest the elections in India? Or will the elections change the way consulting happens?
The nation will witness massive digital and on-ground campaigns in 2019 by all firms to ensure their clients a Prime Ministerial Chair in the Lok Sabha. Even more interesting is how several potential firms will keep on trying for their unicorn campaign ideas to excel in this election year, and to become the next Prashant Kishor.