Campaign slogans set the stage for an election. If they catch the public mood and imagination, they can change the drift of an election.
This time in Telangana the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, fighting to score a hat-trick in the state, is hoping people will go with "Manchiga Chesindu, Malli Vasthadu (He did well, He will come back)" whereas the Opposition is hoping it will be "10 samachralu ichcham. Marudhdham (We gave 10 years. Let's Change)".
The BRS admits there could be a fatigue factor after 10 years. "No party can fulfill all its promises and we have managed a high 90 per cent," KTR claims, pointing out that there is no perceptible or simmering anger against the party. So they want to play to their strength instead of going on the defensive.
So like in 2018, when Chief Minister KCR suddenly dissolved the assembly and announced his party candidates on the same day, taking competition by surprise. This time too, the BRS announced its candidates in August itself, becoming the first off the blocks.
Soon after the candidates were declared on August 21, the BRS first got down to do damage control, reaching out to assure and ensure that those aspirants who were disappointed, did not turn into rebels with a cause.
Though Chief Minister KCR was indisposed with fever for about three weeks, his two trusted lieutenants son KT Rama Rao and nephew T Harish Rao, started a macro campaign, and covered as many as 75 constituencies.
Subsequently the micro campaign has begun with the local candidates and is expected to gather full momentum from November 3 when the nominations begin and exhaustive door-to-door campaign to cover all households will continue till the month-end.
All this even before the Congress and BJP had finalised even the candidates, giving the BRS a definite headstart.
The other challenge would be anti-incumbency. The party chose to repeat more than 90 per cent of its candidates, knowing full well that in every constituency, there is bound to be anger, frustration and disappointment with the incumbent. It was a calculated risk.
The BRS party has admittedly followed the BSP model in that it is MLA-centric. KCR has believed that this approach works well as the key person in the constituency is the MLA. No parallel lines of authority, no layers of party bureaucracy. The MLA is all-powerful. He is the go-to guy for the party and the people.
BRS leaders claim, hypothetically, that if they had gone with all new candidates, they could end up with a 100 plus score. But going with the sitting MLA could work well for the party too as he has the influence, both money and muscle, to make things happen. Replacing him would create a parallel centre of power that could prove detrimental.
So the repeated instruction to this man (or woman) in the hot seat in every constituency is to put ego aside, and reach out to local leaders who may be political rivals or unhappy for some reason, and to assuage, take everyone along, as much as possible.
The few cases where the sitting MLA was not given the ticket, the party claims, they went by surveys and data, and winnability was the only criterion to drop a candidate.
BRS leaders have argued that KCR is for the party what Modi is for the BJP. That in a state election, beyond the reputation of the local leaders, people vote for the person leading the state, and in this case, KCR's popularity they believe is still unchallenged and it is their biggest strength.
The other focus is on organisation strategy. The BRS has not just one central war room at the state level, but a War Room in every constituency. They work closely with the team on the ground and pass on feedback in terms of trends, what should be the messaging, narrative, being alert, overall planning and management of the constituency campaign.
The strategy is to go hyperlocal. It was tested during the Munugode bypoll where the BRS won a high-voltage, highest-spend, hi-stake election. So go booth-wise, analysing who is voting for you and who is not.
So there is one party in charge tracking every 100 voting population. That makes it about 3 lakh party in charges across the state.
Voters are classified as A,B and C, with A as those who are going to vote for you, B as those who could go either way and C as those who are unlikely to vote for you. In the coming six weeks or less, the campaign brief is to consolidate A, reach out to B to convince them to shift to the A category and if C can change their opinion, even better.
The logic is that out of 10,000 voters last time, even if they lose 4,000-5,000 this time, because of disillusionment or other reasons, the BRS feels it is possible to get 7,000-8,000 new voters, and even improve their score card.
BRS leader KT Rama Rao says people decide on who to vote much before election time and the campaign is often a charade, a gallery that everyone plays to. That is why in March-April itself, the party had started Atmeeya Sammelans to re-energise the 60-lakh cadre and leaders of the party, increasing enrolment, ensuring ministers, MPs, MLAs and MLCs, corporators and other prominent leaders participated. For these meetings, groups of 10 villages, or municipal divisions were taken as units, and it was held across the state.
That helped the ruling party also identify the weak points, the segments or issues where there is grouse and dissatisfaction. The effort to pro-actively move to address those also began.
Another red flag is not to grow complacent when things look good or give up when things don't seem to be going the candidate or party's way.
That is a mistake the BRS says it made in 2019, when fresh from winning 88 assembly seats out of 119, they assumed Parliament seats would be a cake-walk. They ended up with nine out of 17, losing four seats to the BJP and three to the Congress.
Even when the party looks weak in a segment, the leader does not give up, he continues to rally the cadre, keeping them alert and on their toes, so they are still fighting with the confidence that their candidate and party is going to win. Because one unexpected twist and turn in the election could also change the outcome in their favour.