Lok Sabha elections 2019: Congress goes from ‘kisan to Keynes’ in ground campaign
Even as people are getting ready to sleep, a handful of Congress leaders are busy fine-tuning the party’s campaign for the national election, based on daily inputs.
Throughout the day, party workers, local leaders and the party’s own “field intelligence” from roughly 1.25 lakh polling booths send in suggestions, alerts and ideas, collected in eight control rooms across the country.
“The raw field data comes to Delhi around 8 pm. A group of 26 data analysts and scientists go through the vast pile of digital data to prepare a report on the key points. Then at 11 pm, an informal core group comprising Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and the head of the party’s data analytics department Praveen Chakravarty goes into a huddle to decide on “action items,” said a senior Congress strategist involved in the party’s 2019 campaign.
Welcome to the new-age strategy process of the grand old party. Gone are the days when senior leaders would spend hours at the 15 Gurdwara Rakabganj Road bungalow, popularly called as the “war room”, to decide the A to Z of the Congress’ poll campaigns.
Myriad field inputs come to the Congress brass: “A senior leader must visit a particular village”; “Urgent requirement of campaign materials”; “Issues that must be addressed in an upcoming rally at this block”; “This community is opposed to us”; “Clarity required on a certain policy”; or simply, “Please send Priyanka Gandhi for campaigning in our area”, the strategist, who asked not to be named, said.
At least 3000 people manage the control rooms in Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Mumbai, Raipur, Trichy, Mysore, Bhubaneswar and Guwahati. “It’s an election across states. So, we have also spread out as much as possible,” said a second Congress poll strategist who too asked not to be named.
Sometimes, the input is just something the party can use to its advantage in the campaign; the first strategist points to a recent instance of a video that showed cash stashed in a minister’s car in Arunachal Pradesh. It came from a party worker who send it through a control room.
As the campaign heats up, the central core of this communication network was shifted to a high-secure location on Friday, not too far away from Congress’ national headquarters, to reduce the chances of hacking and data pilferage, the two strategists said.
Based on the inputs, the Congress has prepared a small video titled “Notewapsi” (return of cash) to describe NYAY—the proposed scheme to give an annual dole of ?72,000 to the poorest of the poors—in simple words so that voters can understand it easily. The party has consistently attacked the NDA’s 2016 demonetisation drive as Notebandi (end of cash).
Even within the party, leaders are being educated about the impact of NYAY even as the BJP targets the Congress’ key poll promise as false hopes and undoable.
“We are telling our colleagues, `This is John Maynard Keynes simplified. We are putting money back in the system so that consumption gets a boost. People will get more money in hand that will lead to higher consumption’. According to Keynes, higher consumption will act as a multiplier for economic growth,” said a senior Congress leader.
The party will also give added importance to the use of social media and digital campaigns apart from the usual rallies and road shows. The Congress, for the first time, is making a video featuring Rahul Gandhi addressing workers by name and saying, “Thank you (the name of the worker). I am really happy to meet you” before delivering a short message on NYAY and seeking his vote.
“We will make millions of personalized videos each with the particular worker’s name. Technology makes it possible even if Rahul shoots for only one such promotional video,” said the second strategist.
In 2004, when the Congress opened its war room, the toilet at 15, GRG Road was so dirty that Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid, the two scripting the manifesto and other campaign materials, used to rush to the Ashoka Hotel to use the toilet. Circa 2019, the war room still retains its relevance for a strategy centre and the place for some key meetings.