Political strategists are the flavour of the season. After Prashant Kishor made a success of Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, politicians of all hues are wooing private agencies to manage the specifics of their election campaigns.
JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar hired Kishor for the Bihar Assembly polls and even went on to induct him into his party after victory. Congress followed suit for the Punjab and UP elections, but won only the former.
Jagan Mohan Reddy ousted Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh with the help of IPAC while MK Stalin used their strategists’ help to re-build from the 2011 debacle. Even Mamata Banerjee roped in Kishor for the general elections.
Recently, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami and actor-politician Kamal Haasan met strategists of Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee.
While strategy has been part and parcel of election campaigns of parties, it had largely been in-house rather than third parties.
Also, the scenario has been slightly different in Tamil Nadu, where parties have depended mostly on their Dravidian ideology and taken a stand on local/national issues based on the election. Voters followed a charismatic leader who played a major role in the region and reached out to people at grassroots, which has taken a beating in the recent past.
Political commentator VC Chandra Bharathi points to the massive influence of social media.
“The role of social media has become important as everyone has started to share their opinions there. There is a need for politicians to keep track of everything and keep people engaged on social media as well,” he said.
“So, to know the pulse of the people, they have to learn it through a process and for the process, they rope in with the private agencies (strategists),” he said.
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Bharathi also noted that politicians have become Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) that are sold by advertisement tactics.
“Beginning from the TV advertisement, they target the audience and make advertisement according to the channel and according to the audience profile of the TV. Similarly, strategists sell the party and the parties symbol,” he said.
“In FMCGs, we give money and take products. In politics, they give money and take votes from us. In both the cases, people are the consumers,” he added.
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University Tamil department head, A Ramasamy said the role of the third party was prevalent in regional politics ever since caste politics took shape in the late 90s.
According to him, the strategist initially helped the party leaders to substantiate their decision while conveying it to their cadres. Later, they started to involve in each and every aspect of the party leader.
“They (strategists) guide the leader to build his image. As media plays a predominant role in it, talking before the camera too was taught to the leaders,” he said.
A strategist who guided a candidate in Chennai during the recent Lok Sabha polls said on condition of anonymity that it was the need of the hour to have a strategist to build an image, to counter the opponents and make the statements that travels the social media current.
He noted that earlier Dravidian outfits did not propagate their ideology in online, but started doing so as BJP has been successfully propagating its ideology online.
The strategist also said that a political leader’s image is not being thrust on people, instead, they feed the people with leader’s image along with the content they consume online.
“For BJP, their fake claims worked out well in north India due to the lack of access to the knowledge aggregating platforms. But, it is tough in Tamil Nadu, as people have access to it and easily expose it,” the strategist said.
Hence, leaders cannot handle elections without the help of the strategists, he said, reasoning that it is only with the help of strategists that parties can analyse social media inputs and build an image.
An MNM worker, who did not want to identified said they are in talks with Prashant Kishor to take his advice for the assembly elections.
“Though party workers know the ground reality, they may not explicitly convey it to the party head. So, to understand the reality on the ground and to fix it and reach more people, we are in need of a strategist,” he said.