Politics doesn’t just happen through opinions people express and whose side they take, it also happens through what issues they choose to debate and what issues they ignore.Shivam Shankar Singh, How to win an Indian Election
‘How to Win an Indian Election’ is written by Shivam Shankar Singh, who worked as a political consultant for BJP in 2014 Election and also worked with Congress at a later stage. Shivam states that he wrote the book for people who aspire to join politics in some form or want to understand how politicians think. He compiled his journey to becoming a political consultant and his experiences while working closely with politicians.
He started out as a LAMP fellow and assisted an MP, and gradually discovered his interest in application of data analytics in politics. He worked in political advocacy group IPAC as a consultant and designed campaigns based on data insights from surveys, polls, and past results. Gradually making his career in political consultancy, he shares insights about how the data and social media played a crucial part in all central and state elections post 2014.
The events in the book are not chronological, and the author goes back and forth in the timeline. But he writes everything in a simplified manner, which is easy to follow. The sequence of events follows more of an information buildup rather than a particular chronology, thereby introducing the reader with the premise of his argument. He starts with the 2014 election, which marked the start of what is called the “Whatsapp news” era. 2014 Central election embarked the increased importance of social media and advertisements in Indian politics, the election that effectively used various media sources to disseminate their campaign. The remarkable model was copied and implemented in subsequent state elections and produced substantially great results there as well.
“Voters started to believe that he was exactly what India needed to break free of the ‘policy paralysis’ that had plagued the UPA II, which had failed to act on major corruption scandals and pass key legislations.”Shivam Shankar Singh, How to win an Indian Election
Shivam put forward a very articulate argument of how a new success proof model of “Branding” has been adopted by the political parties, where the work done by a party has given less focus. And, the ‘idea’ of work done by the party is propagated to the people. The importance of branding in politics is so much that, if the political parties do not brand themselves with a good image, the opposition would brand them with a bad one. In the case of Congress, before they could brand Rahul Gandhi as someone whom people can trust or see as a leader, BJP branded him as a ‘Pappu’ signifying, that he is too naive to lead a country. It successfully created a contrast between Modi’s image of a strong leader, and worked in favor of BJP.
“It was only in 2016, when I worked under Kishore and Madhav, that I understood how a personality cult was created and how an effective campaign could transform a politician into a demigod and a savior”Shivam Shankar Singh, How to win an Indian Election
Shivam provides an interesting study of how Data has revolutionized the political campaigns. He talks about various political gimmicks used by a political parties to influence people and be heard, what it takes to be seen and be a part of everyday conversations, and the price that comes with it. He argues with various examples of how the facts and words are twisted and used against a person. With the emergence of social media and quick messaging apps like WhatsApp, political campaigns have overturned completely. The politics has now shifted to the control of the narrative and creating a foundational brand image for parties, and it’s politicians.
Shivam started as a political consultant and has worked with both BJP and Congress. He was able to produce contrast in both the parties that is present in the public eyes. However, in terms of public welfare, they are both same. The sad reality that the political parties started with the intentions of public welfare are either never in public eyes or grow up to be corrupt is a mirror to the plagued system. In the last chapter “The experiments”, he talks about various other parties, like AAP, PRJA, etc. who are either still struggling to figure out politics, have failed miserably, or are striving towards popular political gimmicks for survival in the system.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is that anyone who wants to do anything positive in politics has to be willing to stick with it for a long time without expecting results.Shivam Shankar Singh, How to win an Indian Election