The bubble of professional poll managers seems to have burst and traditional politics, involving people at the grassroots, is making a comeback in the country.
First it was Prashant Kishor (of Citizens for Accountable Governance), who was assigned the task of managing the campaign of BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Kishor drew considerable attention because of the party’s grand victory at the hustings. The formula was followed in other states subsequently. For example, in Assam, Rajat Sethi and Shubrastha Shikha spearheaded the poll campaign and succeeded.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar then hired Kishor for the Assembly elections in 2015, which saw a grand victory for the Grand Alliance of RJD, JDU and Congress, following which the Congress roped him in for managing poll campaigns in UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand. Though Kishor got success in Bihar, and later in Punjab, his strategy failed in UP and Uttarakhand.
“The mixed results have led us to conclude that professional poll managers are no guarantee for winning elections. The personal charm and aura of political leaders, booth level mobilisation of voters, policies and ideology of parties are ultimately the factors which together make an impact in the minds of voters,” said a PR official. According to Dilip Cherian, a senior political campaign advisor, poll management is a complex job. “It requires surveys, media management and involvement of purely political persons who could mobilise people and take charge of booth management. Some people thought that everything could be outsourced to one person, but that did not work,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
In UP, Akhilesh Yadav roped in Harvard University professor, Steve Jarding, to help the Samajwadi Party design a campaign for the elections in UP. But it was the BJP which won the elections. It was due to the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and achievements of the BJP-led government at the Centre.
Recently the YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy hired the Prashant Kishor-headed Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) to help the party come to power in Andhra Pradesh, where elections are due in May 2019.
A JDU leader added: “Everybody gave credit to Prashant Kishor for the victory in the 2015 Assembly elections. But in the byelections earlier, in which the JDU and RJD contested together, the alliance had won without him.”
According to a BJP leader, “packaging alone cannot help sell a product”. “The ‘product’ has to be good for it to be sold. As regards the BJP, we feel that reaching out to people at the grassroots is the only way to achieve success. Therefore, our party president Amit Shah has been working hard to strike a chord with each and every voter,” he said.