Behind AAP's landslide win, nearly 9 months and 16 hours of work a day

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Political Strategist Prashant Kishor at AAP party office
In December 2019, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) would devise the Aam Aadmi Party’s 2020 Assembly election campaign. Actually, IPAC had started its Delhi project in June itself. A couple of months earlier, IPAC’s long campaign in Andhra Pradesh had yielded a massive victory for its client Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan got a bang for his buck —  almost half of the YSR Congress Party’s Rs 86 crore election expenditure was paid as consultancy fee to IPAC.


In June 2019, IPAC employees started spanning across each of Delhi’s 70 constituencies in a data collection and mood gauging exercise, which would culminate in December when the AAP-IPAC deal was made official. The objective was to survey people in these constituencies to assess how satisfied they were with Kejriwal's government.


“Our surveys showed most people in Delhi felt that the AAP had worked for them in the last five years. The general mood was 'Kejriwal ne paanch saal mein kuch toh kaam kiya hai'," said an IPAC employee who worked on the project. It is still unclear whether Kishor approached Kejriwal because he saw a potential winner, or it was the other way around. But the two months preceding the Delhi election saw IPAC devise an intense campaign strategy, which was executed by the AAP’s foot soldiers with brutal efficiency. Kishor wasn’t available for comment.


“There were two specific things, which were different this time. The social media campaign was full of suave and innovative messaging, which captured the imagination of not just AAP supporters but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi supporters. Second, the campaign had a feel-good factor because it singularly focussed on what the AAP had done in the last five years and what it would do, if re-elected. Kejriwal refused to get distracted by the BJP’s diversionary tactics and followed the campaign strategy,” said Rahul Mehra, co-founder of the AAP.


In December, Kishor’s team identified 200 "influencers" in every constituency and enlisted their support to canvass for the AAP. These influencers needed to be politically unaffiliated in the past and were selected keeping in mind their involvement in social causes in their localities. Almost 15,000 such influencers were identified and they would constantly engage with voters in their respective localities propagating Kejri-wal’s work and vision.


Every IPAC employee working on the project was assigned two constituencies to oversee campaigning. Every ward in each constituency was divided into five mohallas (streets) and the IPAC employee assigned to the constituency was to prepare a report on people’s expectations. “We were working almost 15 to 16 hours a day from December onwards meeting hundreds of people every day and preparing reports” added another IPAC employee who worked on the Delhi poll campaign.


These reports on people’s expectations from the AAP were the foundation for devising the personality-oriented campaign strategy and slogans centred around Kejriwal. It was this mohalla approach that provided the fodder for the "Lage Raho Kejriwal (carry on Kejriwal)" poll pitch launched in the second week of January. Composed by IPAC’s creative heads led by Kishor, the catchy jingle was set to tune and sung by Bollywood composer and AAP supporter Vishal Dadlani. As the campaign song reverberated across Delhi, IPAC’s team tweaked the jingle to "Acche the paanch saal, lage raho Kejriwal (the last five years were good. Carry on Kejriwal)" later that month. People who worked on the campaign said this was done to infuse “freshness and make people believe Kejriwal’s past work deserved to be rewarded with another stint". 


Kejriwal guarantee cards, along with pocket calendars, were designed and distributed among millions of households in Delhi. The AAP had followed a similar strategy of providing guarantee cards in the Goa Assembly elections in 2017. The party had failed to win a seat in the state back then. These guarantee cards had 10 promises, including the continuation of free water and free electricity up to 200 units.


An IPAC employee said: “The key difference between our strategy in Delhi and other states was AAP workers executed the campaign after we gave the final plan to the party’s leadership. In other states, we had hire volunteers.”


“Political consulting companies like IPAC cannot alter existing realities. They can probably make a difference for their client in tight elections with their propaganda and communication strategies. In Delhi, the difference between the AAP and the BJP was a massive 15 per cent (in terms of vote share). So the role of IPAC in the AAP’s victory is not prominent. Parties are increasingly using such services despite having their own grassroots workers because internal feedback on public mood is often biased and susceptible to manipulation by power-hungry leaders within the party. That’s where independent feedback from companies like IPAC becomes valuable," said political analyst K Nageshwar.


Kishor’s IPAC will be now heading to West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, which simultaneously go to the polls in the summer of 2021. IPAC’S services have been enlisted by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and M K Stalin’s DMK in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, respectively.

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