Tasked with helping the party counter the BJP's election strategy of leveraging its cadres to gather support at the booth level, Congressman Kuldip Sharma heads a small, low-profile team that works out of the third floor of the Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan on Ahmedabad's Paldi Road. The chief election coordination committee of the Gujarat Congress gathers intelligence and ground reports and offers strategic analysis to party leaders for the assembly elections, to be held in the state from this week.
- Kuldip Sharma began his work in May this year
- His team works out of Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan's 3rd floor in Ahmedabad
- He crunches numbers with an analyst he has recruited
This team's information is used by Rahul Gandhi, set to be Congress chief, in his aggressive speeches to attack the state's ruling BJP every day.
"We have put a lot of effort to collect the data and identify booth level workers and then have tasked them to cover specific areas," said Kuldip Sharma, a former IPS officer who joined the Congress two years ago, but has been a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for years from his time as Gujarat's chief minister.
Mr Sharma crunches numbers with an analyst he has recruited, Venkat Ramani of Sam Analytics from Gurgaon, who has worked with political parties in Tamil Nadu, with the Congress in Bihar and even the BJP in this year's Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Mr Ramani's company does political research and corporate investigations.
Their analysis shows, Mr Sharma said, that of the 182 constituencies in Gujarat the Congress is a sure shot winner in 28 seats and the BJP in another 22 seats. "So we did not work on them and have focused our attention on the remaining 132 constituencies," the Congressman said.
These 132 constituencies are divided over six regions, he said, Ahmedabad (11), Vadodara (27), Rajkot (24), Surat (20), Mehsana (26) and Junagarh (23). This is the first time that the Congress has ever tried to reach out at the grassroots level in Gujarat, where it has been out of power for the last 24 years.
Kuldip Sharma began his work in May this year. Today, he claims, there are over three lakh committed booth-level Congress workers across the state.
"We based our work on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress did not win a single seat in Gujarat," Mr Sharma said. The team first identified booths in which the Congress got less than 20 per cent votes. It has also collected information on the BJP's weaknesses, like dissidence in the party at the grassroots.
Venkat Ramani and Kuldip Sharma are assisted by Shrishti Chaudhry, the youngest member of the team. The graduate from Delhi's premier Lady Shri Ram College said, "I have been camping here for a month now and have travelled almost 40 constituencies."
Different parts of the state have different issues, Ms Chaudhury said, adding that, "My main job was get a ground perception of a certain area and mapping the issues affecting the locals in that area." The information gathered is telexed to Rahul Gandhi and finds its way into his election speeches.
Regional managers and field executives have been attached to party candidates to help them canvas door to door. Rajnikant Soni, the regional manager in charge of Mehsana district said, "In my area we have been able to mobilise as many as 75,000 booth level committee workers."
"One booth has 15 members. We keep in touch with them about their problems," said Thakur Bhuvan a field executive in Sanand.
Congress workers are working overtime in Gujarat, but the main challenge is to mobilise them and keep them motivated, said Mr Sharma. His team is being compared to Prashant Kishor, the election strategist credited with designing some of the most successful campaigns for then Chief Minister Modi for his 2014 national election, before he switched sides and advised the Congress on elections in Punjab and UP this year.