The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a political strategist as a senior political consultant who designs and directs election campaigns for politicians.
Interestingly, the present political scenario in India reveals a different picture. Here, a political strategist could be very well defined as an expert who ‘assures’ victory in election campaigns for politicians.
It is like tasting victory today depends on who gets to hire a better political consultant that can lead the party towards the way of success.
However, this was not the case a few years ago. In fact, about five years ago there was no such concept in India. Politicians used to win their battles on their own. They needed no aide.
The Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2012 brought the necessity of political strategists into the limelight. By hiring David M. Axelrod as a Senior Strategist in the campaign, Obama let the entire world recognize the talent that such experts possess. And, the results are here for us all to see.
India’s political wizards took no time and sensed the importance of these individuals who work like nothing but magic wands.
The trend of hiring consultants or strategists who are experts in politics was first started by BJP in India, and now slowly every party has jumped to the bandwagon in the anticipation of triumph.
Parties today have become solely dependent on political strategists. While I have no reluctance in stating that strategists do help a great deal, but I can’t really see eye to eye with the thought that merely by hiring a political strategist one can win elections.
After all, it is not only about making catchy slogans and channelizing the youth.
A party needs a lot more than that.
The Great Indian General Election, 2014
The cornerstone for many individuals, who wish to make it big in the political consultancy field today, was the Indian general election, 2014. This election brought Prashant Kishor to the front of the political scene of the country. After the victory of Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with an absolute majority, this man became a star overnight.
Now here I would like to mention that I haven’t met Prashant Kishor ever. And, I am not against him as a person. It’s just the idea of hiring a political strategist to win an election which makes me doubt the very core of democracy.
Many Indians believe that Mr Modi won the 2014 election all because of Prashant Kishor. But, according to me, he was one of the very many elements who assured Narendra Modi’s victory that year.
Undoubtedly, Prashant Kishor did a fabulous job there, but elections can not be won by one person alone. There were thousands of supporters who were working tirelessly for Narendra Modi’s win. I know this because I was a part of the Mission 272 volunteer group.
So, even though the slogans and the campaigns were designed by Prashant Kishor, but it was not only him who should be given the credit of Mr Modi’s win. Media should have stressed on the efforts of the entire team of volunteers there.
In fact, Amit Shah also played a very big role in the same election. And, time and again he has proved to be a very crucial confidante for Mr Modi.
I fail to understand why and how media emphasizes Mr Modi’s Gujarat win in 2012 merely on account of the campaigning done by the political strategist that he hired. I mean it was not the first time that Narendra Modi won elections in Gujarat. It was his third win in a row.
Narendra Modi was already a brand in Gujarat at that time. And as many of you would already know, the country was witnessing almost a decade long anti-incumbency against the UPA. So, whether or not a political strategist was hired, Narendra Modi was pretty much the winner there.
The 2015 Battle of Bihar
This battle was a great one for sure.
Nitish Kumar who also had a Bihar model, just like Mr Modi had a Gujarat model ready, was certainly in the good books of many voters. He did not lose his charm and one of the biggest winning factors for him was the grand alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav & Congress.
Now, here the credit for this tactic of entering into a Mahagathbandhan can definitely go to Prashant Kishor. But then again, an important point to note here is that in spite of the support of Prashant Kishor, it was not Nitish Kumar’s party that emerged as the single largest party. It was Lalu Prasad’s party that came to be number one, without taking the help of any political strategist. So, despite the fact strategists can give great ideas, they can’t really assure any party’s win in elections.
The Bihar Assembly polls of 2015 reinforced the opinion that if there are personalities like Nitish Kumar claiming victory does not solely rest on the hiring of political strategists.
AAP also won, but the credit doesn’t go to a political strategist
While there are parties like BJP and JDU that relied on an outsider for spearheading their election campaigns, the Aam Aadmi Party is a little different. Led by Arvind Kejriwal, AAP is one of the prime examples of social media success in the political arena. The party did make its way to a landslide victory in Delhi in 2015, but it did that on its own.
Well, I must say it takes a lot of dare to not follow the trend and AAP did set an example for those who don’t believe in winning elections by going for someone who doesn’t belong to the party at the first place.
This party has an in-house and self grown department that works on making it big in the Indian political scene. It did not hire any outsider to check the expectations of the Delhi voters and it did not fail – contradicting the perception that has been built these days.
You can be a political strategist too!
Witnessing the surging demand of political strategists in and around India, a long list of companies that claim to be expert at political consultancy has gone on-board in the past few years.
This has given a new career option to the politically savvy people of the country. As a matter of fact, those who were not having any interest in this area as yet are now getting involved in politics. Thus, presently almost half of the India can be seen following the latest news and discussing hot topics concerning political affairs.
Then there are those who are great at communication, and they are also trying their luck at being political experts.
A booming world of political strategy companies, political PR agencies, consultants and branding professionals who are happy fetching political clients from every nook and corner of the country be it a rural politician or some big shot political personality. Names like Oakland Brigs, Shree Political Research Bureau (SPRB), political edge, Creativizt, and others represent themselves as experienced providers of election management and political consulting services.
Needless to mention, this profession is going to have a momentous growth by 2019 when the Lok Sabha elections will make rounds again.
As long as the politicians are filling the pockets of these aspirational political strategists with pretty good amounts of money, electoral campaigns will become more of a branding game than a vision based activity that gives voters the power to select the right candidate.
Yes, hiring a political strategist is important!
One can not rely deny the importance of hiring a political strategist. After all, these professionals bring with them certain things which a political party could be lacking in.
They are usually high profile people who possess excellent networking skills, and a long list of established contacts in the field. They are skilled at marketing and can help any political party in creating and implementing a great campaign.
Often considered as a party’s right-hand man/woman, these professionals are adroit in public interaction and mass engagement. With a holistic overview of the party, these professionals run such a campaign that rests on the cornerstone of talent and skills. From media & communications, to grassroots operations and much more, these political strategists are geared towards every single aspect that proves to be an important element in a party’s win.
The storehouses of organizational, communication and PR skills that they are, political strategists can really help in making an election campaign successful.
But, hiring a political strategist can not be the shortcut to win an election!
Recognized for his contribution in bringing victories to PM Narendra Modi and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, political strategist Prashant Kishor has now been engaged by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the highly fragile states of the country – Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
The party needs to understand that merely hiring a political strategist would not confirm its victory in Punjab. The place is in a state of utter destruction and in order to win elections that are lined up in 2017, the party needs to have a vision for the people of Punjab. It has to set such policies that can do a larger good and can take the state out of the clasps of drugs, poverty, unemployment, cancer and its never-ending misery.
While Prashant Kishor is liasioning within the party, the workers seem to be a little dispirited and demotivated with the trust the party’s VP has placed on an outsider. Congress is forgetting that its own party members should not have the fear that their work will be hijacked by someone who was unknown to them a few weeks ago. Though it’s great to have a strategist helping you, but ultimately your workers have to be involved in your party’s electoral campaigning.
The complexity of the task needs to be grasped well by the party members. They need to work in unison to improve their, as well as the party’s image.
Congress is facing a downfall, and in order to rise again, it needs proper restructuring.
At long last, political parties will just be clients for these political consultancy firms, or rather a project which they can conveniently include in their portfolios later on.
If parties are going to win elections merely by hiring strategists, then doesn’t this pose a danger to the democracy? What’s with the ethics and morality?
To think of it, these external strategists are with you today, but who knows what tomorrow is going to bring. And, if that happens, all your party’s shortcomings and loopholes will be used later by your same strategists in the next elections for the benefit of your opposition.
Well, as promising as it may sound, hiring a political strategist is a risky affair for sure! Today a political strategist might be working with you; tomorrow he can be standing tall with your opponent as his adjutant.
Thus, a tactician is certainly not the answer to the problems that are being faced by the political parties today. The answer lies within the party, amongst the workers, not outside of it.
In order to win an election, you need to first build your own cadre, instead of going for short-cuts.
Now, when Prashant Kishor has teamed up with Congress for the imminent 2017 elections, BJP has filled the void left by this ace strategist by hiring another political strategist named Rajat Sethi for Assam Legislative Assembly election, 2016. A public policy graduate from Harvard University, Rajat Sethi is a product of IIT Kharagpur and is also a co-founder of Arthasastra Foundation.
While Congress and BJP are relying on political strategists to win the game of elections, there are political leaders like Akhilesh Yadav who do not believe in doing so. The UP chief minister, who previously lashed out at Congress for hiring Prashant Kishor, is now all set to rebrand himself. But, he is doing this on his own.
From announcing his government’s achievements on every single advertising medium be it radio, TV, or print, to being active on social media and the web world, Akhilesh is taking his branding seriously. And, he is putting these efforts with the help of his own cadre.
Mayawati is another such political leader who is still making it big in the political field, without the support of any political strategist. This lady has a strong vote bank and a solid cadre with her. She believes in making her work speak for her party, and this is what her party members also believe in. BSP workers have increased the party’s influence in Uttar Pradesh with their work at the grass-roots level. This is why, even at this day and age, where political parties are busy in hiring strategists, BSP is still going strong with its brilliant cadre. This shows the faith that Mayawati has in her team, and this is what is paramount for any political party’s long-term success.
Now, Congress which has not been able to make a comeback in Uttar Pradesh for the last 27 years after ruling the state for more than four decades, is having a tough time.
The party was wiped out of UP at the back of the well-known Mandal and Mandir issues, but what has stopped the party that it has not been able to pull through in the state?
While Prashant Kishor needs to be applauded for taking in his hands the toughest job of reviving the dead Congress party in UP, there is not much that he can do with this conviction and confidence of his, if the party continues to drag its unenthusiastic and low spirited cadre in the tow.
For so many years now, the party has not brought any new faces in the state; neither did it groom the existing one. The state party president, Nirmal Khatri has no desire or zest to transform the party and revive it. The cadre is almost dead. It lacks motivation and has lost its killer instinct for sure. Instead of playing a second fiddle to the regional parties, Congress needs to revive its fighting spirit which died with Indira Gandhi.
In fact, not only UP, but in whichever state the party lost its hold, it also lost the drive to recuperate and West Bengal is a prime example here.
While Prashant Kishor is full of ideas and strategies to make the party win in UP and Punjab, it is Congress’ own party workers who should first be revived. And, this can not be done by anybody else but Rahul Gandhi.
The crux of the matter lies in the simple fact that depending too much on external people to build your party is a risky affair. Just like a product needs to be perfected first before it is marketed, a political party also needs to be improved first. A strategist can market a political union, but they can’t reconstruct them. This is something which has to be done by the party’s workers alone.
A party should first build its own cadre and then only it should get external people for marketing and promotion.
Taking advantage of the talents that lies within the political wizards cum strategists is necessary, but relying on them entirely is a mistake, and a big one at that.