For many experienced and qualified professionals who have a keen interest in politics but have to work in a corporate or other non-political set up, getting an opportunity to play a significant role in one of the most critical elections in India doesn't come easy. When the opportunity arrives, some manage to cast this interest aside, others take the plunge. We at Indian Political Action Committee or IPAC chose to do the latter.
It feels just like yesterday when my colleagues Rishi, Vinesh and I under the guidance of our mentor Prashant took up the mantle and perhaps one of the most exciting challenges of our lives - Bihar elections 2015. We landed in Patna in March 2015 - the team of three then has now grown to a team of 800+ spreading across districts, constituencies and villages. Indeed, the experience was overwhelming.
IPAC was set up with the motto to support deserving and good leaders for political offices. And a decision to work with the Sushasan Babu, Mr Nitish Kumar, for his election victory was indeed a reflection of that motto. Our overall strategy in Bihar was to set up a methodical, professional campaign driven by the notion of reasoning and not mere gut instincts. From the very beginning, our detailed focused group discussions with party representatives, designing of the campaign song, strategising campaign posters and more was driven by this very logic.
The campaign's central war room was set up in Patna with over 150 core team members divided into verticals such as field operations that included Swabhiman Raths, Cycle campaign (Har Ghar Nitishe, Har Man Nitishe), DNA Campaign, Outdoor and Media, Data and Telephony, Digital Promotions and Research & Communications. The team members worked on their key tasks, but the structure was fluid enough to ensure that everyone has an understanding of the overall campaign narrative and can learn and contribute across verticals at the same time.
The campaign started with the launch of our campaign slogan "Aage Badhta Rahe Bihar, Phir Ek Baar Nitish Kumar". Next came our campaign song and creative "Bihar Mein Bahar Ho, Nitish Kumar Ho" - the colors of the posters were chosen in order to ensure they stood out, hit the eye and reached the masses. Consecutively, a door-to-door campaign was launched by Mr Nitish Kumar himself called "Har Ghar Dastak" - the essence being "Ek Karyakarta Das Dastak, Ek Sandesh Har Ghar Tak''. The campaign didn't just involve karyakartas but also enthused them to take Nitishji's message of governance with justice to every household. And then came our biggest hit, also the most attacking slogan of the campaign: "Jhanse Mein Na Aayenge, Nitish Ko Jitayenge."
Positive and attack campaigns were launched at various stages, all with an over-reaching narrative that none but Nitish Kumar for Bihar. Another narrative that was established at the very early stages of the campaign was ''Swabhiman'' - the assertion of Bihari self-respect in the light of the PM's comments attacking Nitish Kumar's DNA, calling Bihar BIMARU and its people ''Durbhagyashali''. What worked was also the synergy between the on-ground and online aspect of campaign execution. All this coupled with a clear communication of CM Nitish Kumar's vision for Bihar in the form of his 7 Nishchays or promises ensured that voters had all the ingredients necessary to take that final decision.
The execution of these campaigns on the ground was a huge task. About 800+ volunteers were activated across the state to carry out these campaigns and take our message to every door step. Members from the central core team were present in each assembly constituency to oversee the execution of the campaign, liaison with candidates, and build local level strategies if and when needed.
On polling day, constituency level war rooms were set up to connect with booth level agents and raise issues, if any, with election authorities.
The digital campaign also played a key component in multiplying the effect of our messages across online users - Facebook, WhatsApp and IVRS being the key tools where campaigns were customised to fit the demands of the technology and logic of each medium. Twitter was extensively used for Nitish Kumar's communication on a real-time basis, plus the #AskNitish campaign on Twitter and Facebook Q&A ensured the Chief Minister's connect with specific audiences and voters at large. Simultaneously, the success of each campaign was carefully measured on a daily basis with rigorous on-ground surveys and feedback systems.
Looking back, the last seven months have been the most demanding yet enriching experience for team IPAC. It is humbling to know that we worked on THE election campaign that perhaps holds the potential to change the political discourse of the country in years to come. And yes, we have got the break and rest that we needed, although withdrawal symptoms post elections have already begun to set in.
(Pratik Jain is a Director at Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC). He was also a Founding member at Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), and previously worked as an analyst at Deloitte India. He did his B.Tech from IIT Bombay.)
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