YS Jagan Mohan Reddy was the architect and face of YSR Congress Party’s landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh polls but it was two years of meticulous planning of strategies, their effective implementation on the ground, and capturing the imagination of voters that won the battle for the party.
Heading this effort was Indian-Political Action Committee (I-PAC), the brain child of Prashant Kishor, the political strategist who designed the campaign for Narendra Modi in 2014 and redefined how elections campaigns will be run in the country.
While Jagan enjoyed good popularity as the successor his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who had the image of being a people’s chief minister, building a narrative for him, drafting the people’s manifesto and presenting the entire campaign in a nutshell required professional skills.
With over 400 members (majority of them youngsters with a technology background), I-PAC worked for two years for YSRCP to infuse professionalism into the party, train and utilise the manpower and deliver the final package.
TDP’s strength in technology
For a relatively new party like YSRCP to take on a well-organised, disciplined and cadre-based Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was not an easy task. Despite Jagan’s popularity even in 2014, YSRCP narrowly missed gaining power to a TDP headed by a more experienced and tech-savvy leader like N Chandrababu Naidu.
The TDP claims to be a pioneer among political parties in India in using technology for its political activities. In the business for over three decades, it was way ahead of YSRCP in the use of technology. With a huge data of party functionaries built over the years, the TDP had various websites and mobile apps for the cadre and the party. In addition, it had an unmatched presence on social media.
Jagan’s party had virtually nothing in terms of data, use of digital platforms and social media. “We had to start from the scratch. We started building the data and launched apps for the volunteers,” said Subhash Tanan, who heads the data analytics and technology team at I-PAC.
A team of 200-250 people was monitoring the activities from the I-PAC head office in Hyderabad. It had a central team and data, technology, political intelligence, strategic research, media, and social media teams.
The campaign for YSRCP was the fourth by I-PAC. Kishor formed the Citizens for Accountable Governance, which ran Modi’s campaign in 2014. This was followed by two more successful campaigns — in Bihar for Nitish Kumar and in Punjab for Amarinder Singh. However, the campaign for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 ended abruptly as the party refused to rope in Priyanka Gandhi to head it.
Though Kishor joined Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) late last year, he, as the mentor of I-PAC, oversaw the YSRCP campaign as he had given his word to Jagan earlier.
Admirer of YSR
A former United Nations official, Kishor was an admirer of late YSR and offered to help Jagan with his campaign.
It was in May 2017 that Kishor and his team started working with Jagan’s party. The process began with a series of strategy sessions, surveys and field work in all 175 Assembly constituencies across the state.
Its field team started interacting with people, learnt what they expect from the next government and gave their feedback to the party and helped make the manifesto. It also connected with people directly through various outreach programmes.
With Navaratnalu (nine gems) welfare schemes, I-PAC captured in a nutshell what Jagan promised to do if voted to power. It was on the lines of ‘captain de 9 nukte’ (Captain’s 9 points) in Punjab and ‘Nitish ke 7 nischay’ (Nitish’s 7 resolves), pointed out Asbah Farooqui, head, national media, I-PAC.
Jagan’s padyatra or walkathon covering 3,600 km was the highlight of the campaign. Though Jagan had undertaken padyatras earlier like his late father, this 16-month-long padyatra was not only the longest but also proved to be the most professionally run one ever.
I-PAC’s 20-member team travelled with Jagan while a pilot team identified the villages he would visit. They facilitated meetings of political and apolitical influencers with Jagan, who interacted with them about the peoples’ problems. The coverage of the padyatra on social media created a lot of buzz.
“When the padyatra ended in January, we had whole arsenals of campaigns ready. Under Jagan Anna Pilupu campaign, Jagan wrote 70,000 personalised letters to village-level influencers. In those letters he sought inputs as to what the new government should do to address peoples’ problems,” said Asbah.
‘Ninnu nammam Babu’
‘Ninnu nammam Babu’ or we don’t trust you Babu was one of the most effective campaigns undertaken by I-PAC, targeting Chandrababu Naidu, also known as Babu.
“After many flip-flops on special category status, Naidu snapped ties with the BJP last year and tried to become the crusader, though YSRCP was the first party first to raise the issue. We told people he (Naidu) is taking you for a ride,” said Khursheed Hussain, a member of the I-PAC core team.
“During the past six months of his (Naidu) tenure, when he realised that he is losing the elections, he started giving doles. We went to people, telling them that he might do these things and to not trust him. He will forget his promises but Jagan will stand by his word and from day one implement his promises.”
This was followed by the ‘Bye Bye Babu’ campaign. It put countdown clocks across the state and garnered a lot of attention. With Jagan’s sister Sharmila spearheading it, it was an instant hit. Similarly, the ‘Kavali Jagan Ravali Jagan’ (We need Jagan, Jagan should come) campaign slogan was a huge hit. It registered 2.2 crore views online.
“We come up with ideas that click. A lot of people did things as they had been doing for the past 20-30 years but in this time and age you need campaigns that capture the imagination of people. You have to understand what people would connect with. We are good at devising these campaigns and executing them on ground,” said Asbah.
Andhra Pradesh was the first southern state where I-PAC did its campaign. I-PAC director Pratik Jain said they faced challenges initially. Most of the team members were from the Hindi belt and they knew nothing about the parties, politics and even the geography of Andhra Pradesh. “We hired youngsters proficient in Telugu. We deployed them in districts and Assembly constituencies.”
The campaign for YSRCP was the longest for I-PAC and the most successful in terms of the seats won. “We don’t work the way political parties work. We bring order to everything. Monitoring, structuring, helping them with their inputs, giving them on-ground feedback, giving them survey feedback, telling them what should they say, what should be their narrative, and so on,” said Jain.
I-PAC does not work with all parties who approach it. It works with the visionary leaders who it thinks will be good for that state and its people. Ideology does not matter for the organisation. “We have worked with everyone. We are ideologically agnostic but it depends. It is actually about the leader, the face and his credentials,” he added.