Decoding Amit Shah's campaign: How he conquered Uttar Pradesh
From running a highly professional, result-oriented operation to simply giving due respect to the last-mile connectors, the rural BJP worker, paid off alongside the big-ticket ad campaign.
Lucknow: It was a long, meticulous operation guided by sound strategy. Uttar Pradesh, the battleground state caught in a maze of caste and communal equations, needed a special approach and a special emphasis if the BJP had to score an impressive victory. Finally, it was much more than impressive: 71 out of the state’s 80 seats beat even the expectations of the men who made it a reality.
With elections over, the professionals who manned the BJP’s workstations are back at their respective locations. But the story of how they made the ‘mission impossible’ a success is still being discussed with a degree of awe.
Crafting the strategy for ensuring a big win and implementing to perfection is no less than a management lesson put in action. It all started on June 12, 2013, when Amit Shah, who at that time most people in Uttar Pradesh knew only as a trusted lieutenant of Narendra Modi and a former Gujarat minister, came to Lucknow after being named the in-charge of the state unit of BJP. The move irked most seniors sitting in the UP BJP head office on Lucknow’s Vidhan Sabha Marg, bang opposite the state legislative assembly building.
But Shah did what he was meant to do. Along with state BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai he toured the state extensively and identified areas where a major push was needed. Back in Lucknow, Shah created his own core team that worked parallel to state BJP executive. It comprised Sunil Bansal, former national convenor of Youth Against Corruption (YAC), the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad campaign launched in 2011, Mahendra Singh, and Ratnakar. Belonging to Rajasthan, Bansal a senior RSS pracharak, was responsible for fixing programmes of senior leaders. Mahendra Singh is a BJP MLC and Ratnakar, another RSS functionary. Bansal brought a small team of his own that was bilingual, tech savvy and used to time-bound execution. These included Anil Singh, Arun Kant, Ashutosh and Devesh Kumar, engineers both and Abhishek Kaushik, a tech expert focusing on social media. Sanjeev Singh, national co-convenor of IT Cell, BJP, was stationed in Lucknow for this duration as also Saurabh Rao, co-convener of the UP BJP IT cell.
The next task was to connect people who were BJP supporters and those who were not but were influential in their respective areas. They had to be moulded to bring around others to support the BJP. This meant a huge number of individuals who had to be contacted at least once every day or more, and they had to be equipped with the wherewithal to take the message forward.
By January-February, the ABVP cadre had been included into the task and the message had started going ahead with the Kalash Yatra. Then came the Modi Rath, the mini-vans equipped with GPS, pictures, posters, audio and video of Modi’s message, songs and music. As many as 450 such vans were sent to villages and small towns and the slogans such as Abki baar Modi sarkaar, Modi aanewale hain, Hum Modiji ko laanewale hain, Achchhe din aane wale hain and some TV jingles became popular even in areas where BJP had no presence. Volunteers traveled on these vans taking Modi and his message to the people. The formation of booth-level teams continued simultaneously.
The objective was to have one worker in every booth, and the Lucknow team collected about four lakh such individuals with their names, addresses, names of Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies, number of the booth they represented and mobile telephone numbers. Those who did not have mobile phones were given one with an activated and prepaid SIM card. Callers from the BJP call centre talked to these people every day, regardless of their location.
Their responses were compiled and at the end of the day a comprehensive report was sent to Amit Shah. Every morning and evening decisions were taken to sort out any problems.
For support staff, about two dozen young men were picked up from the Surya Foundation, a non-government organization established in 1992 by Jai Prakash Agarwal, Chairman and Managing Director of Surya Roshni Limited, having its office in Jhinjholi, Haryana. The avowed objective of the Surya Foundation is to promote a national consciousness and social awareness among people, especially youth. It works in the areas of personality and skill development among youth and promoting Naturopathy and Yoga, besides other things. The boys sent from the Foundation’s training centre in Haryana came mostly from Delhi, western UP and Haryana.
The 20-seater call centre was manned by professional tele-callers who were trained by Kameshwar Mishra, convener of state BJP’s Investor Protection Cell and a former co-convener of the IT cell. Having past experience in running call centres, he told them about the language, responses and patience needed for the exercise.
The call centre was given the specific task of calling up district committee members, travelers on the Modi rath, and booth level operatives. The questions asked to them were as simple as problems in driving the vans and petrol for them, number of people contacted that day, any specific feedback or complaint, any requirement of money or resources, availability of campaign material and programme for the next day.
“The district level and booth level workers were more than happy to provide information on a daily basis. We did not give any monetary incentive to them but simply gave them importance for what they were,” says an RSS functionary. “These simple people from remote villages and small towns have been the source of all parties’ political strength. They are the last-mile connect with the people for top leaders. We simply brought them into the core of our network,” he said.
The strategy is quite similar to the rural marketing measures followed by consumer companies since the decade of the 60s. “At that time also products such as washing soap, toothpaste and tea packets were used to be available at roadside shops in remote villages. The men selling this stuff were contacted by company representatives and given importance as the last-mile connect with their consumers,” says Mishra.
Sanjeev Singh, who was closely involved in the process, says the entire exercise was organized as a professional, result-oriented operation. “We are used to working according to a plan and keep the result in mind all the time. The political significance of what we were doing added to the sense of accuracy and urgency,” he says.
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