Modi’s victory : Lessons in Election Strategy

Very often when it comes down to learning strategy from others, it is the successful corporates that one thinks about. Though strategy plays a significant role in architecting electoral wins, they are more about demographical strategies like caste, linguistic, religion etc..

However in the massive mandate that Narendra Modi and the BJP have got in the General Elections of 2014, I believe there are significant lessons to be learnt on various elements of election strategy.

  1. Timing

Modi got the ‘timing’ right : Be it in getting himself anointed as the Prime Ministerial candidate or pacing of his campaign, he got it absolutely right.  When he got himself nominated as PM candidate, BJP’s partner for 17 years the JD(U) decided to snap the ties, which again, from a timing perspective worked in favour of the BJP.

  1. Use Differentiation to your advantage

‘Ab ki Baar, Modi  Sarkaar’ became such a great meme throughout the country. It can always be argued whether it is wise to “personalize a government” which is elected in a democratic process. BJP realized that the Brand Modi was more powerful than Brand BJP and despite criticisms’ and barbs, stuck with their decision. The majority that the party got on it’s own without allies is a result of the premium that they derived out of Brand Modi. At the end of the day, If you’ve got it, you’ve got to flaunt it.

  1. Invest right, Invest in the right people

There are several estimates on how much BJP spent in the campaign. While the extent of investment is not really known, an article that I read suggested that BJP had earmarked around Rs. 400 crores for their media campaign. They also signed on two major stalwarts of the advertising industry, Prasoon Joshi and Prahlad Kakkar, to design their media campaigns.

  1. Adapt to Technology

Modi used the 3D technology that he introduced in the Assembly elections to great effect. In the run up to the elections, the print media was full of campaign coverage, but nothing succeeds like “putting a face to the campaign”.  The illusion created by 3D, of hearing to Modi in person, went a long way in establishing a deeper and far-reaching connect with the electorate.

  1. Be Alert to Opportunities

Not even the person with the best of intentions for Modi could have predicted the faux pas of Mani Shankar Aiyer, the manner-less, senile veteran from Congress. So when MSA derisively mocked at the humble origins of Modi,  BJP was alert enough to swing it to their advantage. The “Chai pe charcha” was a smart, agile and an appropriate counter punch from which the congress couldn’t really recover.

  1. Strike where it hurts

It had become norm for BJP and other parties, even without a quid-pro-quo arrangement, to skip aggressive campaign in the bastions of the Gandhi family. Though the election of the Gandhi family was never in doubt, by campaigning in their bastion, Modi made it very clear that he’s challenging the ‘legacy’ and he shouldn’t be expected to show any favors.

  1. Display external flexibility but be rigid on the core

Modi kept reiterating that he’s open to aligning with any party. He may have been secretly confident of an independent majority for BJP, but he ensured that he’s not seen as the one who’s shutting the doors.  His willingness to accommodate new partners, proved to be an effective way to quell “internal discontent” within his party on the issue of “acceptability”. New partners were welcome only if they “accepted” Modi.

  1. Use crowd sourced support

Modi’s clever use of the surrogate support system in the form of Ramdev or Sri Sri Ravishankar was an excellent ploy to consolidate his vote bank.  A ‘free run’ to the surrogate group often helps.

  1. Be Stoic to constant criticism

Modi’s personality was such that he was a cult figure – loved or hated but never ignored.  His opponents may not have realized but the accusations against Modi had attained a level of “sameness” that any criticism, abuse was washed off like water on a duck’s back. Reacting to constant criticism would have meant providing new axe to grind. Modi’s stoic reaction to “same accusations” by different opponents punctured their arguments. They desperately wanted him to react and that’s exactly what Modi didn’t oblige.

10. Develop oratory

Be it the AK47-Antony-AK49 barb or the RSVP model snide remark, Modi outdid all his opponents on oratory skills. India’s demographic structure which uses Hindi as a link language across East to West worked to his advantage, but without the kind of oratory skills that Modi has, it wouldn’t mean much. Delivering comes later, but without talking, one wouldn’t get a good shot at the opportunity to Walk the Talk.

Modi’s elevation to the highest office of the land is a great testimony to clear strategy, thoughtful planning and precise execution. While his fortunes for the next election in 2019 may depend on his performance, I trust Modi and his team to strategize his repeat election 5 years from now.

IPL : Time to Reflect

If a name holds the key to understanding the priorities of an organization, BCCI, one must say couldn’t have got it more wrong.

First it seeks to operate as a corporate managing ‘board’ , next it seeks to ‘control’ whatever it can or rather wants to, after which it identifies itself with ‘cricket’ and finally the consumer base, that is ‘india’.

Though I don’t have privy to the actual working mechanics of the BCCI, I do believe that I may not be very far off the mark with my summarization of it’s working style.

The power of the BCCI does come from the fact that it operates in the biggest market in the world for cricket.  Post liberalization and especially after the growth of the IT service sector saw the emergence of an affluent Indian middle class with willingness to spend.

IPL was the offering to these affluent new-age middle class.  Though T20 originated in England mainly to cater to the needs of those who wanted an evening game of cricket but allowing them to go back at a decent time for the next workday, it was the ingenuity of the BCCI which productized the game as a customer offering.

With the system of ‘price discovery’ for the players through a free-market system, it was obvious that the league was talking big numbers.

With big numbers come big responsibility and big problems.

Sadly BCCI never recognized the challenges of keeping the league clean, reputations intact and intellectually honest. After all, it took the captive audience for granted.

It is a huge irony that the franchise who is the current leader in the table for ‘Fair Play’ must suffer the ignominy of sheltering alleged fixers. It just goes to prove that administering the game is far more difficult and a professional job rather playing the game.

When you are a player, you need to be the best for your own sake ; when you are the administrator of a game, you need to be the best for the game’s sake.

Any kind of punitive action against the players in custody is just a minuscule part of what should be happening next.  BCCI must self-introspect and evolve a mechanism to keep the league away from the reach of the manipulators.

At the end of the day, BCCI, as much as it may bask in the glory of it’s Balance Sheet, will still be guilty of failure if it cannot, despite being the richest body, keep the game clean.

For all those bashing the IPL and/or the BCCI, it isn’t the time : For I believe, despite all the over-the-top-glitz and glamour, IPL has been a good cricketing platform. It is a trifle sad that IPL hasn’t created an Indian Hero in all of these years, but IPL did contribute in letting the world know the prowess of Pollards, Watsons, Narines, offering a decent income stream for Rajat Bhatias and Ajit Agarkars and also providing the opportunity for many Indian players to share the same dressing room with legends of the game. The educational value of a Vijay sharing the dressing room with Hussey cannot be replaced by any number of coaching hours.

So without throwing the baby with the bathwater, it is time to think constructively on restoring the confidence in the IPL.

The BCCI must convince itself and the world that it is committed more to the beautiful game rather than laughing it’s way to the Bank.

Changing it’s name to something like Cricket India, however semantically inconsequential to the actual problems, may be a good starting point.

The 4Ps of Sanjay Dutt’s case

The foundation of a good marketing ploy, as any marketing pundit would say lies in the 4Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. It seems that those campaigning hard for Sanjay Dutt have to also align with a 4P strategy which of course would mean – Parity, Partiality, Precedence and Probity.

While the last word hasn’t yet been said on this issue, with Dutt himself trying to distance himself from the attempts to seek pardon, it is very clear that the issue does result in a polarizing debate.

Without getting into the merits of the case for pardon or for that matter without getting into any legal technicalities, it should be clear to anyone that similar crimes cannot have dissimilar consequences.  Those who have to make a decision on Sanjay’s case must first evaluate the demand from the crucial perspective of parity.

A good measure of whether India is a ‘super-power-in-the-making’ does not depend on our military might but rather how equitable a nation we are. For years, brazen disregard for equality in favour of those rich, powerful and famous, in no particular order was part of our social structure. But the India of today is not the India of 80s. This is a new India in the making which does not take high-handedness lying down. The second principle that needs to be applied in the case of Sanjay is one of partiality. There is no case for a preferential treatment merely on the ground of his popularity or his father’s popularity, surely a lame duck explanation it would be.

Most members of film industry often point to how sanjay has suffered those ‘long years’ as if it was a penance that he was serving. The long process of law certainly cannot make a case for a lenient view on conviction because the complexities of the case were such that Sanjay couldn’t be dealt with an open-and-shut process. The longevity of a case, if taken into account to press for a pardon and/or a lenient view would set a very dangerous precedence in our justice system. Complex cases which require a certain time frame for effective dispensation of justice would then become an automatic redemption route even for hardened criminals which is not in the best interests of the society

To me the most important and clinching factor in deciding Sanjay’s case is one of probity. The additional sentence is not going to be easy for him but does he have to go through the same fate as someone who gets released after incarceration for a period of time ?  Is Sanjay Dutt’s social approval going to be any less or would he have to restart his life from scratch?  Certainly he is not going to have air conditioned comforts, fine dining or social meets during his tenure in jail but he is not going to miss them for ever either. To me it seems that the principle of probity would require comparing the certainity of  Sanjay’s post-sentence lifestyle with someone who walks out from prison with an uncertain future and a huge social stigma.

It would be very interesting to see how the powers that be go about deciding on Sanjay’s case but it is very clear that his friends make out a better case rather than relying purely on emotional appeal. Certainly the India of today wouldn’t believe that Sanjay was just a munna who didn’t know that he was dealing with the bhais of the underworld.

Random Thoughts

Forced to use public transport yesterday, I had this sudden brainwave that  city buses have such symbolic importance in transforming our country, albeit momentarily, into a true socialist republic. Oblivious to all those high-powered, Armani suit clad, Harvard B-School educated investment bankers and unmindful of all kinds of valuation models – Asset Based, DCF, P/E based – commuters in my bus were happily buying Banks and Corporations.

‘Saar Ondu Sony’ (One ticket to Sony Center Bus stop)

‘Iredu Canara Bank kodi’ (Two tickets to Canara Bank Koramangala Branch Bus stop).

India, where we live in modicum of everything – governance, justice, propriety, democracy – wonder whether the Communists should be happy with the level pegging that typifies our city bus services


The bus travel also clearly proved to me the “real place of a man” in a household. Lest friends think that i am too much into eavesdropping, the conversation between two women, was so loud that it couldnt escape anyone.

So, here is the conversation between 2 women in the bus, apparently school buddies, meeting after a long time.

First Woman (FW) : ‘Hey <Name not clear>…How are you ?’

Second Woman (SW) :’I am well, How are you’

FW : Doing good

SW : So you are back to Bangalore (presumably FW was Onsite !)

FW : Yeah

SW : Now you are with ?

FW : Yahoo

SW : You are at the same place ?

FW : <smiles, a bit embarassed ?, I wouldnt know>, y-e-a-h

SW : Such a big house for the 2 of you ?

FW : But, you know, I have a dog !

Me : No comments !!!!!!!!

The ceiling of cobweb


Returning home in the office cab may not be the best time to engage in kind of political discourse but the temptation to eavesdrop into a conversation is irresistible for most.  The temptation is further accentuated when the conversation is in a language that you understand but the fact isn’t known to many, giving a near horny pleasure of the right kind.

The co-travelers in my journey back home were from the land of freebies, Tamil Nadu. Naturally the political conversation centered on the change of guard and the ramifications. While I was almost contemplating to stop eavesdropping to take a small nap, a comment, certainly loose cannon, made me abandon all thoughts of sleep and forced me into some reflective thinking – the result, a post after a long time.

It is part of the political culture of Tamil nadu that whoever comes back to power overthrowing the incumbent often cancels the schemes of the previous regime. One is entitled to criticize this and even brand it political vendetta or naivety depending on the individuals political dispensation but the gentleman who was discussing it called it the “function of the fickle woman’s mind”, as broad-brushed a comment as one can ever imagine.

I started wondering as to whether one would be inclined to comment upon Karunanidhi, for instance, as a “fickle minded man” if he chooses to cancel “Amma’s” schemes. And in fact he had done so previously in the round-robin political fortunes of the two major political forces in Tamil Nadu.

So how does one explain the blatantly condescending attitude towards women in politics? Why does one feel emboldened to drag “gender” into what should essentially be a debate of policies. Ideally the debate should be based on facts ;  The ‘impromptu panel’ in the backseats of the cab was most economical with the facts not because they wanted to be so, but they may not have the sources for the facts. While I don’t hold that against them, the debate can still, I feel, be based on ‘political affiliations’ in the worst case but   I was appalled to find it based on a misplaced gender chauvinism.

I have often heard about the existence of a “glass ceiling” for women in the corporate world. Despite the stupendous success of Indra Nooyi, Chanda Kochar, Naina Lal Kidwai to name a few, Corporate India doesn’t have too many examples of women who have broken through the ‘glass ceiling’. But I think and continue to believe that the glass ceiling is creaking if not cracking and women are going through the invisible channel.

Outside the corporate world, the scenario continues to be bleak.

In general,  Indian women are either gloriously glamorized as incarnation of Devi or content being arm candies or door mats of the Ekta Kapoor variety. It explains as to why the number of women who exhibit any kind of interest in joining politics or mainstream is very few.

The comment coming as it does at a time when 30% of Indian population is led by Chief Ministers who are women is deeply reflective of the impoverished state of the Indian thinking, more specifically the Indian male mindset.

By no means am I making a case for Indian men to be less critical of Maya, Mamta or Amma or the Queen Bee Sonia but can we be more legitimate in the criticism than give vent to gender biases ?

A politician is bad for bad policies, graft, mismanagement, lack of ability and so on, but not, for chrissake, for being a woman.

Comments such as the one I overheard make me really wonder whether “political reservation” for women is really the way forward.

Whether one accepts them or not, I am of the view that the political prowess of women has reached a tipping point, waiting to be unleashed. It would certainly be important for men to evaluate them on the basis of their performance or otherwise, certainly not on their gender.

The time has come for the Indian male mindset to clear it’s mental cobwebs about women in politics. Because today’s woman has no patience for such mental cobwebs precluding them for being equal partners in the cause of nation building or joining the loot. Either way.

A moment to savor

The moment that all Indians were waiting, hoping, yearning, stoning & praying for, ever since Kapil Dev Nikhanj held the Prudential Cup in 1983 finally arrived on the 2nd of April.

Yes, the World Cup has returned to the cupboards of BCCI and the coffers of the players has just started jingling. No one is complaining.

At the outset I have to admit that I am not the greatest fan of Indian cricket, though I dearly adore Gavaskar, Dravid, Laxman to name a few. I predicted a Pak vs SL finals, which was evidently possible, culminating into a win for the Lankans.

Indian team proved me wrong as they won 3 high-pressure, high-profile matches to win the coveted trophy.

Beyond the cricketing reasons, the most important reason for this win is the self-belief that this team had. The self-belief of a nation that wants to progress against all odds – corruption, political bickering, lack of governance – to name just a few.

Starting on a slow note, the competition picked up steam once the minnows had been dealt with. The clash of the titans – India vs England and India vs South Africa – in India’s group proved to perfect advertisement for the ‘one day’ format.

I am a bit skeptical about this ‘Group format’ in World cup for I truly believe that in a WC every country should play against each other. It is hugely gratifying that India played all the top nations and having thrashed New Zealand earlier, proved to be worthy winners.

The win was possible only due to careful long-term planning and having the right resources when it mattered. This is a great template for other team sports in India especially Hockey where I believe that India can be among the very best.

The Indian fan beast has been fed, but I am sure, he will be hungry very soon. Dhoni  and his men would only know too well that reaching a pinnacle is far easier than staying there.

Playing on a wrong wicket

As the countdown to what is being billed as the “mother of all matches” (clearly ignoring the fact that there have been & there will be such “mothers” in the upcoming editions of World Cup) enters the last few hours, the nation seems to be in a vice grip of jingoism of all hues.

While the cricket fans are contributing to the frenzy, there is a new generation of “peace jingoists” who are trying their best to add to the shrill. It must come as a surprise to pair “peace” and “jingoism” together but I have done so in full conscience.

It has become fashionable of sorts to dismiss voices of “realism” on our troubled relations with Pakistan as “right-wing” mongering.  I am not suggesting that “right-wing hardliners” don’t exist in India, not after seeing the trolls in the social networking.

But I am disturbed by the “holier-than-thou” behavior of these so called “peace activists” who seem to believe that those advocating caution are “hate and war mongers”. Far from that.

The “peace doves” don’t get tired of repeating the same “we-have-the-same-culture” rhetoric to define the Indo-Pak relations and their over reliance on “people to people contacts” to foster better ties with Pakistan.

I am a bit skeptical about this “same-culture” theory not because I am jingoistic but I refuse to believe that culture is a static entity. Whether it ought to have happened or not, Partition is the reality and it serves no one to “ignore facts”.  The day India and Pakistan became two nations, their destinies were de-coupled. The progress report of India and Pakistan reads very different, but relative to the respective social and political changes witnessed in the countries.

I believe it is quite naïve to insist that the culture of India and Pakistan “remain the same”. They may have been same but today I believe there are as many differences as there are similarities. To insist that the cultures continue to be same is ignoring the winds of social change or the lack of it in both the countries.

If we extend this argument of “same culture” then we have to accept “talibanization” as Indian culture ; we have to also forego the identity of our nation as a “secular formation” and instead be identified as a theocracy.

Will Pakistan abolish their feudal system or will their army accept the “superiority” of their civilian, elected government ?

I suspect that the continuous harping of “same culture” doesn’t go too well with Pakistan, which reads into this much differently. Pakistan has always maintained that India should better get reconciled to the “two nation theory” as “real, final and irrevocable”.  No wonder the attempts by the “peace jingoists” is not always reciprocated by Pakistan.

The argument that India and Pakistan have the “same culture” and hence should “learn to live in peace” is also flawed and if I may say dangerous. Does this presuppose that those who don’t have similar cultures like the Sinhalese and Srilankan Tamils ought to be warring?

Peace is desirable for the sake of progress and well-being not just because of a “shared culture”.  Actually when nations whose cultures are different learn to live in peace, it reflects real maturity and statesmanship.

I think we have to recognize that both India and Pakistan have moved from being “one big happy family” to independent, sovereign nations, working to uplift their people from poverty and ushering in prosperity. Their problems are different and so are the methods.

It is an onerous task in itself without the additional trappings of a “shared culture”.

Real progress can be made, in my view, only when there is recognition of the differences that need to be acknowledged and respected. The mantra for peace can be “we are different” but we can live in peace as “mature nations”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s gesture of inviting the Pak PM is important but has it’s limitations as a diplomatic initiative. There has to be the realization that “cricket diplomacy” cannot replace “real and substantive diplomatic initiatives” to secure peace with Pakistan. The outstanding issues are not beyond resolution especially if there can be better sense on both sides.  However there has to be recognition that the issues are far complex to be entrapped in the jingoism of “common culture”.

The PM may have used the occasion of the cricket match for positive symbolism mainly and also to get a marauding media off his back for a while. He has succeeded in using cricket to pitch for progress in peace and one hopes that “peace jingoism” doesn’t end up in him playing on the wrong wicket.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.