How BJP used data to craft landslide win
Behind the landslide victory of BJP in the 2019 elections was a carefully crafted campaign that targeted individual voters based on data compiled by a team, mapping its outreach through more than 160 control rooms and working closely with party workers.
Behind the landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the 2019 elections was a carefully crafted campaign that targeted individual voters based on data compiled by a team of information technology professionals, mapping its outreach through more than 160 control rooms and working closely with party workers.
The party chose two consulting firms for the elections — Jarvis Technology and Strategy Consulting Private Limited and Association of Billion Minds (ABM) — to micro-target voters using data analytics. The focus was on reaching out to beneficiaries of central welfare schemes such as Ujjwala, which offered free cooking gas connections to poor households, or Swachh Bharat, under which a toilet was constructed in their house.
A team of about 400 professionals from ABM and Jarvis steered the BJP’s initiative. “We worked with data obtained by BJP party workers and primary members. We knew where all the workers were deployed and which booths they were looking at. The party workers reached out to the primary members who had joined the party after the missed call campaign in 2014. They did the beneficiary outreach together,” a Jarvis executive said.
The missed call campaign was aimed at bolstering public support of Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial candidacy. Volunteers would phone callers who dialled a specified number, get their basic details, fix up an appointment and meet them personally to deliver an information kit on the Modi campaign. “We had their specific address and areas and mobilised them to reach out to the nearest central scheme beneficiaries and collect their data through multiple events,” the Jarvis executive cited above said.
Like many other strategies put in place by the BJP, the focused outreach paid off. The result: the party came back to power with a bigger majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.
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Poll strategists also tapped the ‘Mera Booth Sabse Majboot’ campaign launched by Modi in September 2018 to reach out to party workers through the NaMo app.
“We used it to train all primary members and workers on the phone and told them to reach out to voters who had benefitted from any scheme. For example, if someone had got a cylinder under the Ujjawala Yojana they would go to their home and ask them to put up a flag outside their houses if they were happy with the government and wished to get more benefits. This was part of the “Mera parivar, Bhajapa parivar” (‘My family, BJP family’) campaign, We would then ask them to give a missed call to register their support,” the executive cited above said.
The campaign launched by BJP in February was aimed at covering about 50 million households. These campaigns were also used for collecting data on voters. “We collected a lot of data through this. Their data would then come up on our servers and we used it to contact them through various forms of communication like sending SMSs and interactive voice response system,” the Jarvis executive added. In February, the BJP launched the Kamal Jyoti Abhiyan, which required the party’s workers to visit the homes of beneficiaries of the government’s welfare schemes. Under the campaign, the party workers were to light a diya, or earthen lamp, in the beneficiaries’ houses.
“...the message was that your house has light because of Modi. They were then asked to give us a missed call, through which we collected their data,” he added.
The mobilisation and call outreach for BJP’s campaign was done through various such initiatives by 120 million primary members and party workers.
“It was a simple format and since we had different calling numbers for each constituency we would know where it came from and plan how to contact them accordingly,” the Jarvis executive added.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) guidelines prohibited party workers from contacting beneficiaries directly.
“We could not directly contact beneficiaries till they opted for it and gave us a missed call. Parties used to buy data from telecom agencies and shoot an SMS. Mapping and filtering it from such a huge database was not done before,” the executive added.
Mobilisation of workers also depended on the states, “In states like UP, MP, Rajasthan etc we had larger deployment and lesser in the South,” he said.
The BJP’s principal challenger, the Congress, kept its outreach programme in-house and mobilised party workers through the Shakti app. Its national data analytics team comprised 19 members led by the party’s data in charge Praveen Chakravarty.
“We ran almost 20 call centres, most of the work was done in-house. We segregated all the 140,000 booths as weak, strong and marginal for the party. We identified each and every booth based on which we gave our campaigning importance depending on these parameters,” a Congress functionary said, requesting not to be named.
Based in Mumbai, Jarvis operated through 161 call centres using 15,000 callers, an exercise which began since July last year. “In eight months we were able to do 15 lakh calls. Through this we processed the data and mapped them,” the Jarvis executive said.
“We developed call centres in even tier-two cities and hired people to focus on local dialects, even in places like Palamu in Jharkhand which is a Naxalite area, we had a call centre running,” he added. BJP, through Jarvis, contacted about 240 million beneficiaries in a span of eight months.
“We knew booth-wise how many people, where our workers are etc. That micro-targeting with filtered data was the key,” the Jarvis executive said.
The party had data on recipients of the benefits of government programmes such as Mudra loans for small entrepreneurs and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for housing finance, according to an ABM official, who didn’t want to be named.
“The Vistarak– BJP’s assembly heads, would have the data of beneficiaries of their assembly. BJP is good at maintaining such data, on an average, they would have 15,000 people’s data per assembly segment. Beneficiary data would come from the central government only,” said the ABM official.
Congress, through its Shakti app network, claims to have reached out to 420 million voters.
“Main source of our data was the Shakti app. We had data of 6.7 million Shakti workers where we could identify them booth-wise as we had their voter ID. Through this we figured which booth they belong to, age group, gender and location of the voters. Areas would be categorized as urban, semi-urban and rural. We SMSd them, sent videos, identified Whatsapp numbers and then created Whatsapp groups. By collecting data from various sources we then used our algorithm,” the Congress functionary said.
The party also depended on “sentiment surveys” to gauge voters’ mood. “We did a lot of data analysts through data collated from sentiment surveys asking what the major issues were and whether issues like Rafale were getting enough traction or not,” the functionary said, referring to the party’s campaign plank of alleged corruption in a deal for the purchase of 36 jet fighters.
In a message sent to the party’s data unit, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said: “I thank you for your hard work and dedication in this election campaign. We fought a very good fight...67 lakh booth workers, 42 crore voters were contacted through phone, distributed 1 crore NYAY pamphlets, 22 control rooms. Thank you once again. We must continue fighting for our ideology,” he said. The effort wasn’t as successful as the BJP’s. The party’s strength in the Lok Sabha increased by 8 seats to 52, from the historic low of 44 it had sunk to in 2014 while its vote share remained the same from the last time around at about 19.5%.