The Role of Political Consultancies in Modern Indian Elections

Political consultancy has become a lucrative industry in India, estimated to be worth around 2500 crores. These firms are not just service providers; they are strategic partners who can significantly influence the outcome of elections.

OPINION

Aryan Sharma

5/30/20244 min read

Political Consultancy
Political Consultancy

The Role of Political Consultancies in Modern Indian Elections (Research Credits : Aevy TV)

In recent years, political consultancies have become a significant force in shaping the outcomes of elections in India. These organizations have transformed the way political campaigns are conducted, leveraging data analytics, social media, and strategic marketing to influence voter behavior. This article explores the rise of political consultancies, their methods, and their impact on democracy in India.

The Evolution of Political Campaigning in India

Political campaigning in India has undergone a dramatic transformation since the country's first general elections in 1952. Initially, campaigns relied heavily on rallies, door-to-door canvassing, posters, and street theater. These methods were effective in a pre-digital age when the public was more scattered and less connected.

The shift began in 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi introduced modern marketing and communication techniques to political campaigning. However, it was not until the 2014 general elections that the full potential of digital and data-driven strategies was realized. Narendra Modi's campaign, managed by political consultancy Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), marked a turning point. The success of this campaign demonstrated the power of combining traditional campaign methods with data analytics and social media outreach.

What Do Political Consultancies Do?

Political consultancies like IPAC provide a comprehensive suite of services designed to help political parties and candidates win elections. Their work includes:

On-Ground Surveys: These consultancies deploy a network of field workers to gather detailed information from potential voters. They conduct door-to-door surveys to understand voter concerns, opinions on civic issues, and preferences.

Data Analytics: A dedicated team of analysts processes the data collected from surveys and other sources. They crunch numbers to identify trends, voter demographics, and key issues that could influence the election outcome.

Media Strategy: This involves crafting messages and creating content for both traditional and new-age media platforms. The goal is to promote the campaign's narrative and ensure maximum reach and impact.

Narrative Building: Creating a compelling story is crucial for any campaign. Consultants identify the dominant sentiment among voters and develop a narrative that resonates. This could be based on themes of hope or fear, depending on what they believe will be most effective.

The Art and Science of Election Campaigns

Modern election campaigns are a blend of art and science. The art lies in creating a narrative that can capture the public's imagination, while the science involves the meticulous use of data to craft strategies that target specific voter groups.

For example, during the 2014 elections, Modi's campaign used the narrative of anti-corruption and development to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters. Similarly, in the 2021 West Bengal elections, Mamata Banerjee's campaign focused on the fear of cultural domination by the BJP, portraying herself as the protector of Bengali identity.

The Business of Political Consultancies

Political consultancy has become a lucrative industry in India, estimated to be worth around 2500 crores. These firms are not just service providers; they are strategic partners who can significantly influence the outcome of elections. Some of the prominent consultancies include:

IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee): Founded by Prashant Kishor, IPAC played a crucial role in the 2014 Modi campaign and has since worked with various parties across the political spectrum.

Inclusive Minds: Headed by Sunil Kanugolu, this consultancy works exclusively for Congress.

ABM (Association for Billion Minds): Founded by Himanshu Singh, it is known for its work with the BJP.

Varahe Analytics: This firm focuses on southern states and works closely with the BJP.

The Shadow Side of Political Campaigning

While political consultancies have brought professionalism and efficiency to election campaigns, their methods raise several ethical and moral questions. The intense focus on winning at all costs can lead to practices that undermine democratic values.

Micro-Targeting and Data Privacy: Political consultancies use sophisticated techniques to micro-target voters based on detailed data. This includes not just basic demographics but also spending patterns, social media activity, and political sentiments. Such extensive data collection and use can infringe on privacy and lead to manipulation.

Manufactured Narratives: The narratives crafted by these consultancies can sometimes be misleading or exaggerated. The goal is to evoke strong emotional responses, which can lead to the spread of misinformation and extreme content.

Lack of Transparency: The involvement of consultancies is often not disclosed publicly. Politicians prefer to keep their reliance on these firms under wraps, leading to a lack of accountability.

Increased Election Costs: The professionalization of campaigns has significantly increased the cost of elections. This includes spending on chartered planes, helicopters, and other expensive campaign tools, which can inflate the overall election budget.

The Future of Political Campaigning in India

Given the complexity of modern elections, political consultancies are likely to continue playing a crucial role. However, their rise brings forward important questions about the nature of democracy and the integrity of the electoral process.

Ensuring Accountability: There needs to be greater transparency in the operations of political consultancies. Disclosure of their involvement and the strategies they employ should be mandatory.

Data Privacy Regulations: Stronger regulations are needed to protect voter data and ensure it is not misused. This includes setting clear guidelines on data collection, storage, and use.

Ethical Campaigning: Political parties and consultancies must prioritize ethical practices over winning at all costs. This includes avoiding the spread of misinformation and respecting the privacy and intelligence of voters.

Public Awareness: Voters should be made aware of the role of political consultancies and how campaigns are crafted. This can help them make more informed decisions and be less susceptible to manipulation.

Conclusion

Political consultancies have revolutionized election campaigning in India, bringing a level of professionalism and strategic planning that was previously unseen. However, their rise also highlights significant ethical and moral concerns that need to be addressed to ensure the integrity of the democratic process. As voters, it is crucial to remain informed and critical of the information presented during campaigns, recognizing the sophisticated machinery behind it. By doing so, we can uphold the true spirit of democracy and ensure that our votes genuinely reflect our beliefs and aspirations.