On the outside, the placid Lutyens bungalow on corner of a leafy Delhi lane betrays no signs of the frenzy inside.
A boy wearing paper goggles featuring Bharatiya Janata Party's symbol attends an election campaign rally addressed by Narendra Modi in Kheralu town in Gujarat. (Reuters)
The BJP’s ‘advertising and publicity war room’ — makeshift cabins on the back lawns of 1, Lodhi Estate — functions like a 60-seater real-time, off-shore back office where the party’s campaign strategies and poll slogans are penned, videos are conceived and produced by a 35-member team of professionals who have studied in the world’s top universities and left lucrative jobs. It is overseen by a core group of top leaders including Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah, Sudhanshu Trivedi, Sushma Swaraj and Piyush Goyal.
“We are playing a role in the making of this history. That keeps us going,” said Hitesh S Barot, 37, a senior intellectual property counsel who worked with multinationals such as Intel and GE India, and quit his regular job to volunteer for the campaign team. Barot had studied engineering and law at the University of California, Berkley.
In January, inside one of its rooms of the war room, a core group of the BJP’s top strategists went back and forth over which catchphrase to choose as the election slogan.
Top BJP leaders and a couple of independent corporate and brand strategists initially brainstormed over two slogans: “Desh ki pukaar/ BJP sarkar” and the “Is baar/ Modi sarkar”.
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Neither got everybody’s spontaneous nod. Then Ajay Singh, Spicejet co-founder, supposedly made a spur-of-the-moment proposal, pitching for the now famous “Ab Ki Baar/ Modi Sarkar” in a late night conference call.
The party strategists then decided to go through their hard data once again. They found that Modi’s brand recall value was 20% more than that of the party he was to lead.
That statistic, an insider says, sealed the case for what is now the BJP calling card in these make-or-break elections, setting in motion the party’s frenetic media blitz planned, conceptualised and executed by a team of under-40 professionals, most of them who have taken a sabbatical or left well-paying regular jobs.
“Just after Modi’s Varanasi rally ended on May 8 evening, we were asked to create an ad using the rally footage. The ad was ready by 3 am. By 6 pm next day, the film went on air,” said Hemang Jani, 35, an alumnus of National University of Singapore, who left his job with a multinational consulting firm to join this team.
“We want to remain the party’s behind-the-scenes media team,” says Banuchandar Nagarajan, 34, who studied public policy at Harvard and worked with World Bank before joining the team.
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The decision to set up a “war room” of this mandate was taken in October, barely a month after Narendra Modi was anointed as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial-candidate, although the actual campaigning work began only in January.
“Negotiations for buying space also started around this time,” said another team member Debojo Maharshi, who runs a Delhi based software firm.
After the zeroing on the principal slogan — Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar — the party lined up a star-studded team of advertising professionals including Ogilvy & Mather’s Piyush Pandey, renowned lyricist Prasoon Joshi and media planning veteran Sam Balsara of Madison World.
Soho Square, a subsidiary of O&M and Madison World were put on the job to prepare the narrative around the slogan and plan out detailed media planning strategy, respectively, for broadcast, print, radio and digital spaces.
Insiders say it was Pandey who came up with the now famous ‘Achchhey din aane wale hain’, while Joshi penned the party anthem ‘Saugandh’.
“We made 10 ad films in less than 72 hours, which in itself is a big achievement,” said Raj Kumar Jha, of Soho Square, a multi-linguist with fluency in 16 languages. Jha, like many others, are housed out of the “war-room”.
Strategists fanned out across the country to oversee the media plan. “I was intimidated and threatened by rival party workers while carrying out the print and electronic media campaign in the north east,” said Shantanu Kalita, a software consultant, who has also served the BJP in earlier election campaigns.
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