Nish Deodhar

May 24, 2019

5 min read

Dear RaGa

Dear RaGa,

It’s not going so well? For me neither. I had your transformational journey set to be the topic of my next book. I was planning on comparing your success to what Trump achieved in 2016. Your transformation was persuasive. The change was perceptible and impactful. I know plenty of people that were swayed back to the Congress. So, where did I go wrong in my analysis? What did I miss? Why did the persuasion not translate into votes?

You are probably reeling under an avalanche of “advice”. There’s introspection abound around you! I’ve got some of mine to do as well. Confident you’d win, back in 2017; then not so sure after Pulwama; then sure again. But this outcome? I was so horribly wrong!

So read my introspection-outcome at leisure, it might be helpful. With no skin in the game, other than the obvious self-interest in tweaking my prediction methodologies — you will find that my analysis, if nothing else, is more objective.

Your branding, by far, was on mark. You delivered the message effectively too. In my opinion, the BJP had more misses on message branding effectiveness. But they won, so any dissection on that is moot. We’ll stick with your campaign.

What follows is post-results analysis. Pre-results, and even post-exit polls, I confess, the outcome I predicted was of a UPA win with MGB help, and, yes, even you as PM. Yet, I think, I’ve figured out the missing gaps in the election brand wars. So next time better predictions!

So here goes:

  1. Nyay failed to deliver! It was announced late. Very late. Most voters have already been swayed one way or the other, a couple of months before the elections. Even tiny advertising campaigns run longer than a couple of months! Explaining a new scheme takes much longer. Add to this your slogan “Ab Hoga Nyay”. Where is the Call to Action in this??? Crowdsourcing your manifesto is fine, but most people don’t understand behavioral psychology and the art of persuasion. Your advisors should. Compare yours with Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. See the call to action. “Now Justice will happen” (sic), is such a passive tagline in comparison. NYAY had the ability to counter the last minute Govt. dole out, if just announced earlier; if just branded better.
  2. Lack of Feet on the Ground. If there was one big gaping hole in my analysis, it was this. Sunil Deodhar and his team are formidable! Nothing nudges a voter in your direction, than a direct, one-one, persuasive chat. Absolutely nothing. Rallies, hoardings, WhatsApp messages, nothing. How did I miss this? How really? Perhaps, your assembly election wins, swayed me. Perhaps, predicting your win, biased my analysis. The RSS Sevaks are a disciplined lot. Add to that the organisational sophistry. Panna pramukhs, booth level committees, and tight processes that made these organisational units highly efficient. Managing a ground-level task force is not easy. There’s boarding, lodging, training and then constant monitoring that needs to be in place, and then constantly tweaked for efficiency. Sunil Deodhar built an organisational structure and process that is autonomous. So while he focussed on West Bengal and cracked that nut, autonomous teams were deployed elsewhere. The long 7-phase schedule allowed for groups to travel well in time. Well before the Modi rallies, the units were already deployed, individual voters spoken to, and some even goaded to attend these rallies.

That’s it. Everything else, for the most part, I had considered. So while the rest may pontificate on if Priyanka had joined earlier, or if you had built a better vision or narrative, and on and on, I say didn’t matter. Gabbar Singh Tax, worked. The “Chowkidar Chor Hai” worked even better. The Parliament hug — beautifully executed. If you are hearing otherwise, they are wrong. Ask your persuasion experts, they will agree with me.

Just these two. The delay in NYAY, not as important as the latter. But enough feet on the ground, and NYAY would have been weaponized. The last-minute carrots doled out by the BJP would have been effectively neutralized. Remember humans in general don’t want to cheat. In their heads, any money in their account will subconsciously convert to support for the BJP.

So how does an underfunded (on a relative basis), chaotic (your own words) organisation go about meeting these challenges? There’s two challenges in there — funding and planning.

  1. I’m a little out of my persuasion realm, so I suggest a well-known and highly successful military tactic — a Beach-head strategy. The term comes from military strategy, meaning that as you invade enemy territory, you need to focus your strength and concentrate on winning a small border area (the beachhead) that becomes the stronghold from which you’ll advance into the rest of the territory. As you advance, you need to fortify your position and it needs to become a stronghold. This was the shocker for me. After having nudged voters your way in MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, you let the gains fritter away? How did that happen? This was only a few months ago. So please RaGa, get back to work and protect the bastions you have won. You have the experts. Protect what you have, before you leap all over the place. Narrow your focus.
  2. Stronghold built. Move adjacent. Pivot away from your weaknesses. Amethi was your weakness. Given your schedule, how often were you able to visit your constituency? As often as Smriti Irani? You are party-president; you can’t be protecting your fort and then also tend a garden, that’s a thousand miles away. Shed it! The UP fight can wait another day. Let MGB figure it out for now. After you have rebuilt MP, move to an adjacency — Gujarat is tough for obvious reasons, but perhaps Maharashtra. There are enough chinks in the BJP armour there, to leverage. Then, ally. Ally. Ally. The Congress cannot manage it all anymore. You need ALL the friends you can get. Even if it means an MNS! Ideology-Shmideology! You’re at war Bro! You can shed your allies later! The BJP did; why not you?
  3. Learn from your opponents. You said in your interview, that the BJP has taught you how not to run a Government; now learn how to win an election. For heaven’s sake stop the “Pyar jeetega” bit. In action, if not speech. You can’t tap into pyar and win an election. It’s too passive an emotion. You can tap into anger. You’ve identified the angst in the farmer, the youth, the Uber driver, the Dalit, the Swiggy driver, and the unemployed. What is stopping you from tapping into it? Dig in deep and use it. In your words, Daro Mat. Yes, you are a nice guy. You’ve won the personality contest. Now for heaven’s sake, please go out and win some elections!
  4. Finally funding. Start today. Sell some merch. Ask AAP, they’ve done this before. The RSS does it, or at least did it. When someone donates to your cause, they are vested. It doesn’t matter how much. They are still hooked. Republicans, Democrats and even nomadic monks do this all the time, and for the same reason. Once you’re vested, you’ll believe anything. You knew this. You started a fund drive. Why did you let it fizzle?

Introspection done. My predictions will get better. But, you dear Raga, have your work cut out for you. A democracy needs a formidable opposition, and as far as I can see, the Congress is the only hope for one. Persuasion-wise, there is nobody else better suited. No you don’t need an Amit Shah. Where was Mr. Chanakya, all those years before 2014? You need you. The nation needs you.

So, damn the naysayers! Go kick some butt!

Godspeed!