From roping in Prashant Kishor to social media offensive: How AAP designed campaign strategy for Delhi polls
The AAP has so far contested six elections in the national capital - two Lok Sabha polls, three assembly polls, and one municipal election.Updated: Feb 11, 2020 12:34 IST
The 2020 election campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which according to early trends and leads was set to return to power in Delhi, had some prime markers.
These included concepts such as report card of the government and a crisp guarantee card for the future, town hall gatherings, intense use of social media leading to a virtual war over memes and parodies with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and a unique campaign song to resonate across all constituencies. All these different approaches focussed on highlighting one thing - brand Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister and the party’s national convenor.
The AAP has so far contested six elections in the national capital - two Lok Sabha polls, three assembly polls, and one municipal election. But this was the first time they involved a professional election strategist in the form of Prashant Kishor and his agency I-PAC, which has worked in the past with campaigns for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and leaders such as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
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“The report card was conceptualised around November, when the party was about to begin its third phase of the poll campaign, and had already drafted a plan for a thorough door-to-door drive covering 3.5 million households. The report card was essentially a list of achievements of the party and it had to go together with townhalls. The idea was to project the chief minister like a confident leader who does not shy away from one-on-one conversations about his work and from taking questions from the crowd. The plan worked out well and we could see more support,” said the AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP and election campaign in-charge Sanjay Singh.
With that, the party also released its campaign song, “Lage Raho Kejriwal”, created by Bollywood composer and self-proclaimed Kejriwal supporter Vishal Dadlani. This soon became the theme for over 8,000 events - ranging from local public meetings by leaders of different ranks to Kejriwal’s roadshows - organised across the city. In the roadshows, a large number of people across all constituencies could be seen dancing to the song that endorsed “Brand AK” even though, in many cases, it emerged that they did not know the party’s candidate from the seat, especially on the 23 constituencies in which new faces were fielded.
Meanwhile, a new kind of war continued - of memes and parodies on social media. The AAP was clearly on the front foot, with the social media team of the party led by Ankit Lal coming out with new video content every second day - taking digs at the BJP, its leaders such as party president Manoj Tiwari, and the Congress. The content was based on a wide range of things - popular films and songs, to popular advertisements, to Web trends, to the Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. For this, a group of young volunteers joined the AAP’s Delhi war room from other cities. At the forefront was a 23-year-old media studies graduate, Abhijeet Dipke from Pune.
“In the very early stages, we realised that we were much ahead of our competitors in the social media battle. Social media strategies can impact voters of wide demography. The strategy worked well,” said Dipke.
By the first week of January, however, something changed. The Shaheen Bagh protests grabbed centrestage and the BJP lost no time in making it a campaign pitch, openly attacking the AAP, and with that, changing the discourse of the campaign, which, till that point, was focussed on core development and welfare issues.
“That caused a delay in the manifesto, which the AAP was supposed to release on January 19. So, on that day, the party released a guarantee card instead. It was a document to assure voters that the Delhi government’s work on certain areas would continue unhindered if the AAP is voted back to power,” said a senior party leader who did not want to be identified.
With time, the campaign turned toxic, diving people on religious lines. Union minister Anurag Thakur was seen leading a “shoot the traitors” slogan, for which he was punished by the Election Commission, and BJP MP Parvesh Verma called Kejriwal a “terrorist”, for which he too was chastised.
The AAP, at this point, acted quickly by changing this challenge into an opportunity by launching a campaign which stressed on asking voters if they saw Kejriwal as their “son” or a “terrorist”.
“The new strategy helped a lot in bringing back the discourse of the campaign to Delhi’s local issues such as water, power, sewer, roads, schools, hospitals and welfare schemes among other things,” AAP convener in Delhi Gopal Rai said.