Over the years, the political backroom ecosystem in the country has grown manifold in terms of size, importance and most importantly in the influence it commands within the internal system of political parties across the states. Under the umbrella term of ‘political consultancy’, the business has seen unprecedented growth when elections will be the buzzword till mid next year.
Political consultancy firms have upped hiring in recent times from top notch B-schools, IITs, IIMs and top universities to get new talent. “This year the demand from political communication and consulting was higher than earlier years,” Professor Govind Singh, dean, academics of IIMC, Delhi told ET. “Usually, TV media or newspapers offer Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per month, but these companies have hired students at Rs 40,000 per month.”
Indian voters are diverse in every way — from geography to varying political preferences at the micro level of constituencies. This demands the backroom management of political parties to respond dif ferently and that involves a gamut of functions.
Political consultants sit with party leaders to understand their vision, requirements and goals and come up with a time-bound plan to achieve the set goals. It is the first part where an outline is prepared, and the roles of other functions are set at the beginning itself. It is a dynamic process; leaders and consultants review progress and changes are incorporated midway to respond to the prevailing situation.
It has been an integral part of electioneering, even before the political consultants came into the business. But in the new system, technology tools and data has taken the survey to the micro level of booths and voter lists, making the findings more precise. Even during political meetings, leaders sit with the surveys and data sets provided by these consultants to prepare campaigns or decide party candidates. The days of favouritism in ticket distribution are gone and it has been replaced with a robust ground survey report that suggests which candidate is better for a particular constituency. Some of the leading firms like IPAC, Varahe, ABM have their own team for doing ground surveys. Some like Inclusive Minds outsource this part to specific survey agencies
“It is difficult for politicians to keep track of change in technology and evolve with time. While some of us are used to experimenting and evolving, several are not. In such cases, political strategists are the need of the hour because they have expertise in that. Whether a strategist should work inhouse or externally, it is a matter of choice for parties”
— Pawan Khera, Congress spokesperson
Leveraging the media and social media is one of the most important aspects of campaign management. It is part of the political consultancy business to devise platform specific media campaigns targeting voters based on their age, work, occupation and the medium they are using. A team of social media experts, content writers and tech savvy professionals are engaged to manage the media presence daily. The responses and replies to the campaign are monitored on a regular basis by a team and party leaders get daily reports.
The role of the consultant includes party management. Be it a membership drive or handling internal communication system, everything is digitised with specific tech tools and party leaders can access information about a party worker from remote areas of the country on their mobile phone in a jiffy. The internal reporting system allows leaders key in the day’s progress on the system and the data is analysed to notice the shortcomings and trends.
The poll companies also handle ground-level logistics of ad placement, billboard handling and designing the stage for leaders during big rallies. Apart from looking at the organisation part, they also help mobilise the cadre through call centres at different places.
In 2014, Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) worked for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign. A group of IITians including Prashant Kishor joined the campaign and were part of his second venture IPAC in 2015. As the business grew, several core team members of IPAC set up their own outfits. Kishor feels that the “business is bound to grow with time. There is recognition and cognizance on the part of political stakeholders that consultancy can help them”.
Before leaving IPAC, Robbin Sharma designed the campaign for YSR Congress Party and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy for 2019 elections. At present his Showtime Consulting is with TDP and N Chandrababu Naidu in AP, while IPAC continues to work for Jagan.
“BJP is a cadre-based party and we trust our cadre. The job of a political strategist is to advise. They make suggestions on certain things. It is for the leadership to decide on suggestions, whether to accept or reject them. Strategists are not decision-makers”
— CT RAVI BJP Leader
With new ventures, the market also opened for employees at every level and cross hirings have now become common. Shantanu Singh, a 2012 IIT Kanpur graduate and a director in Showtime Consulting, handled Nitish Kumar’s campaign in Bihar. Later, he went to NUS Singapore to study public policy. “For eight-nine months I tried to build something on my own. But it didn’t turn out. At that time Robbin Sharma had already started Showtime Consulting. He invited me and I collaborated with him,” Shantanu told ET.
Another professional, who worked with the IPAC in West Bengal 2021 assembly elections, got a better offer from Naresh Arora’s Showboxed. “The opportunity was good both in terms of money and profile,” he told ET on condition of anonymity. Currently he is in Rajasthan campaigning for Ashok Gehlot. Professor Govind Singh of IIMC says that initially several of his students joined a political consultancy firm as a starting point of their career to work for one or two years and later move on in other sectors. “Barring few, most of them are still working in the sector but have switched jobs,” he told ET.
THE KEY PLAYERS
IPAC -Started by Kishor in 2015 before Nitish Kumar’s campaign in Bihar, is now run by Rishi Raj Singh, Prateek Jain and Vinesh Chandel. All worked with Kishor starting from Modi’s campaign in 2014, Kumar’s in 2015, Congress campaign in UP and Punjab in 2017, Jagan Mohan’s 2019 campaign and Mamata Banerjee’s 2021 campaign. At present, Rishi is handling YSR Congress and Jagan Mohan’s campaign in Andhra while Prateek is working on the West Bengal government’ campaign. Vinesh is looking after the Jan Suraj Yatra of Prashant Kishor in Bihar
INCLUSIVE MINDS – Headed by Sunil Kanugolu, works exclusively for Congress. He played a crucial role in several BJP state campaigns. In 2022, he moved to Cong and is now part of Cong task force for 2024. He is credited with the Karnataka victory & Bharat Jodo Yatra, is handling Congress’ campaign in states.
ABM – Founded by Himanshu Singh in 2016; works exclusively for BJP. Its two platforms were ‘Nation with NaMo’ and ‘My first for Modi’; came up with idea of ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’. It is handling BJP’s campaign in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan & Telangana assembly elections
VARAHE ANALYTICS – Rangesh Sridhar’s firm started in 2022, works exclusively for BJP like ABM. It mostly handles the southern states and is handling BJP’s campaign in Chhattisgarh
DESIGNBOXED – Founded in 2011 by Dinesh Arora, it started in 2016 with Punjab elections. In Rajasthan and Himachal, it is working for CMs Ashok Gehlot and Sukhwinder Sukhu, while in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh, it is working for deputy CMs DK Shivakumar and TS Singhdeo
JARVIS CONSULTING – Run by Diggaj Mogra, handles internal communication system and call centres for BJP. First roped in by Maharashtra BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis for a platform for party cadre that was replicated for national BJP in 2019. It handles Saral application of cadre management and will establish 300 call centres for BJP for 2024 elections. Roped in to manage ‘Mann Ki Baat’
SHOWTIME CONSULTING – Founded in 2018 by Robbin Sharma, it handles three campaigns. It oversaw the campaign of Conrad Sangma in Meghalaya and is working with the state government. Besides, its clients include N Chandrababu Naidu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde
POLITIQUE ADVISORS – Founded by Ankil Lal, earlier associated with Aam Aadmi Party, handled its social media team. It handles several individual clients as well as political parties and currently works for three INDIA bloc parties
RAJNEETHI – Founded in 2012 by a group of techies in Bangalore, Rajneethi works on several state campaigns. Initially, their focus was southern states, but now it works in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Founder Saras Chandra and a core team of four do not talk about clients and pitch technology as their X factor
Apart from these companies, there are infocrunch, swaniti, political edge, utopia consulting and several others working across the country at small or mid-level
THE ROAD AHEAD
Rs 2,000-2,500 crore campaign consultancy business currently employs close to 30,000 people at different levels for fixed durations. “This industry has got acceptance among politicians, but they don’t like to name us for their success. No politician wants to reveal that he is getting advised by a consultancy firm. It is this lack of acknowledgement that has delayed campaign consultancy in India from becoming a full-fledged industry,” Naresh Arora, founder of Designboxed, tells ET