Congress’ poll secret? A portal with ear to ground
Allowing Rahul Gandhi to do this is a software the Congress president has named Vidya, a nod to the data-enriched knowledge that can be pulled out from it.Updated: Nov 16, 2018 07:43 IST
Over the past few months, there’s a certain routine Congress president Rahul Gandhi follows when he arrives at a city, town, or village for a rally — he has spoken on several occasions since September 1. Gandhi calls a local, grassroots, booth-level party worker and asks him if he is attending.
Allowing Gandhi to do this is a software the Congress president has named Vidya, a nod to the data-enriched knowledge that can be pulled out from it.
The platform is powered from a stuffy room at the Congress headquarters on Akbar Road in New Delhi. There, the party’s data analytics department head, Praveen Chakravarty, presides over a team tracking each booth in election-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana.
That’s around 1.72 lakh booths; each booth is coloured one of three shades, indicating the density of dedicated Congress workers in that area. The workers themselves are listed in order of their political activity.
Over the past two months, the data team has geo-tagged millions of such Congress workers and their mobile phone numbers.
Gandhi, before reaching the rally venue, swipes through the software on his phone (the front-end of this database) to find the “toppers” and calls them directly.
“It’s unbelievable to many booth-level workers that Rahul Gandhi himself has called him or her. So, we often get complaints that ‘someone pretending to be the Congress president has called workers’,” laughs Chakravarty.
The use of such technology by the Congress’ rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, as Hindustan Times first reported in late September, the key to that party’s campaign for 2019 is the “cell phone pramukh”, and there will be one for each of the 927,533 polling booths in the country. This person is expected to drive the BJP’s extensive WhatsApp-based campaign for the election, and each such person will have a smartphone given by the party.
This is the first time, though, that the Congress is using such tactics at the booth level. The BJP’s plan for 2019, too, revolves around booths and a “booth action plan” prepared by party president Amit Shah, who has already asked state units to compile a list of smartphone carrying voters in every polling station.
In the states going to polls, Congress nominees are given details of the booths where the party is strong and also workers who can be depended upon in each booth. Not surprisingly, “there is a mad rush from our candidates asking us to give them the details of the workers,” says Chakravarty.
The Congress’ new efforts come even as the BJP has a clear playbook for reaching out to its ground force. Prime Minister Narendra Modi frequently interacts with BJP’s booth-level workers across the states via video conferencing. Senior BJP leaders have also been asked to hold regular meetings at the gram panchayats to get genuine feedback from the people and party workers.
Vidya, the Congress database, is derived from another online platform Shakti – which the party uses for enrolling workers and giving them more voice. After enrolment, a worker is given different tasks such as attending a rally or participating in a door-to-door campaign for the party. Each activity carries certain points. “The points indicate who is the most active and who should be considered as the best assets at a booth,” says Chakravarty.
The Congress also used Shakti extensively for candidate selection in the upcoming assembly polls, and insiders claim that in many seats the poll results decided the fate of the candidate. “Nearly 70% of new candidates are also the ones who did really well in Shakti,” adds a senior leader. Shakti has about 4 million members.
Shakti feeds into Vidya, which operates at the booth-level, the most important node in the political chain, according to experts. For many others, the ongoing elections might be about four big poll-bound states. For Chakravarty and his team, it’s an election season involving 172,345 booths
First Published: Nov 16, 2018 07:03 IST