Ahead of Assembly elections, Karnataka sees a spurt in political strategists

The scope of what these political strategy firms do ranges from image consultancy and media management to surveys and data analysis.
A collage of Siddaramaih, DK Shivakumar, BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai
A collage of Siddaramaih, DK Shivakumar, BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai
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With less than a year to go for the Karnataka Assembly elections, there is an inundation of political strategists being employed by parties in the state. Several political leaders too have been hiring consultants in a bid to project themselves as the face of their respective parties and curate their public perception. Over the last few years, many political strategist firms who were earlier operating behind the curtain have emerged to the forefront.

The scope of what these firms do ranges from image consultancy and media management to surveys and data analysis. The primary purpose of hiring professionals to manage campaigns is to bring in structure and streamline the process, say politicians. While the JD(S) is largely relying on party workers to manage their social media as well as strategy, the Congress and BJP have been engaging outside consultants.

For the Congress, the campaign for the upcoming Assembly elections is being handled by Sunil Kanugolu’s Mindshare Analytics. Kanugolu has worked on several campaigns including those of the DMK, AIADMK and the BJP. He also worked on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign along with renowned political strategist Prashant Kishor.

“Unlike Kishor, Kanugolu does not appear in the media often. It helps keep focus on the campaign and the politician he is working with rather than on himself,” said a source close to Kanugolu. “After Prashant Kishor’s talks with Congress did not materialise, Kanugolu was given a free hand to manage the party across the country. His team has already started work with the state units in Karnataka and Telangana. In Karnataka, the mandate is clear – help the party win the Assembly elections. There are different camps in the party but the strategy will focus on winning the elections rather than on specific leaders,” the source said.

Mindshare Analytics has been delegated with handling the media messaging, social media content, strategies on what issues to focus to take on the BJP government, and also which constituencies the Congress can focus on to get a simple majority. Closer to the polls, they will also conduct regular surveys to gauge the mood of the voters to tailor the party’s attack against the BJP.

Meanwhile, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar continues to employ the services of Naresh Arora’s DesignBoxed. Initially the firm had projected Shivakumar as the CM face for the party. This led to friction within the party, however the leaders have been downplaying these differences and DesignBoxed continues to handle strategy and public relations for Shivakumar.

Another senior Congress leader in the state has availed the services of a political strategy firm, with a key mandate to push him as a CM face in the party. “Among other things, we have been asked to bring professionalism and effectiveness into the system. We will also be using scientifically conducted surveys to understand the pulse of the people. We currently have a core team of about 150 people, but for the data collection we will have 150 people on the field,” said one of the main strategists.

Meanwhile, a group of senior Congress leaders have roped in a new strategy firm to work on their election campaign. The firm was started by senior strategists who previously worked with the Indian Political Action Committee(I-PAC) on the DMK election campaign in Tamil Nadu. The project is still in the early stages, sources tell TNM.

The ruling BJP has not brought in any outsiders to plan their strategy, but a group of professionals who are aligned with the party have been working to put together a plan for the Assembly elections. Sources say that even Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai has not hired any outside company to manage his media and social media engagement.

The strategists working on the Karnataka roadmap are closely involved in researching what issues and achievements of the current government will be projected for the party’s campaign. Sources say that strategies about how each of the senior leaders should be projected too is being finalised by the team in close consultation with the BJP’s central leadership. “The team working for the BJP is never really outsiders. Even if they are professionals from other fields, each of them is always associated with either the party or the Sangh Parivar. The broad instructions come from the high command and the final plan is to be presented to them too,” said an insider.

However, several senior leaders have employed agencies and consultancies to manage their public projections. Former CM Yediyurappa’s media as well as social media is being handled by a team of PR consultants who also contribute to his campaign strategy. Other senior BJP leaders like CN Ashwath Narayan, Dr K Sudhakar, Murugesh Nirani and Arvind Limbavali too have their campaigns managed by consultancy firms who also work on data management.

With reports of a possibility of early elections in Karnataka doing the rounds, more leaders are expected to start appointing outside agencies to manage their campaigns in the state.

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