My Choice of Internship – Campaign Management Support for Narendra Modi at CAG India

My summer internship experience doesn’t begin from day one on the job but from day one in the IIM Lucknow campus. I would like to share it in the episode format of my favorite TV series, Friends.

The One where it all began: It all began on 15th June’13, the day I entered the campus with eyes filled with dreams like every other IIM convert. But my mind was filled with calculations required to pay off the gold mortgaged at home which is where summer internship stipend could save me. With the added pressure, I logged through the rigorous summer placements preparation drive in the campus and ended up with an internship on 30th October which was paying just the right amount I wanted to pay off mortgages. There was something missing in that internship which made me restless which made me pursue for other opportunities till March. On 21st March’14, LinkedIn connections brought me closer to an alumni who gave me a lead on something that excited me to the most. It was of an internship at Citizens for Accountable Governance India. The reason for the excitement can be attributed to the role description which said ‘The role entails working closely with the campaign team of Shri Narendra Modi and the BJP at the ground level.’ In words of Chandler Bing from Friends, ‘Could it get any better?’ I had a couple of lengthy telephonic interviews with the founding team members and I got the offer letter on 26th of March’14. Only thing was that pay in the offer letter wasn’t as much as in the other offer letter I got earlier. I should have been in a dilemma thinking about the gold mortgages but I wasn’t because of the exciting opportunity to know the political set up of India from close. I wanted to join immediately as the General Elections 2014 would start from 7th April and campaigning was already in full swing across the country. But I had to wait till 30th March for my end term exams. With bursting excitement I set off for a long 40 hour arduous journey in Indian Railways to Bangalore where my first assignment in 2014 General Elections was waiting for me.

The One with the New Beginning: On 1st April I set my foot in Bangalore City BJP office where a group of young professionals were working busily on their laptops. Not a typical welcome you expect at summer internship, one of them took me to another room for induction. I got the basic gist by then that I would be working in a Parliamentary Constituency (referred to as PC from here on) of Karnataka but what never crossed my mind was that I would be the only person in-charge of a PC. The next surprise came in when I got to know that General Elections were scheduled to be held in Karnataka on 17thApril. I was assigned to Gulbarga PC and was asked to do research about PC before they hand me over the analytics report. With hardly two weeks of time, you get to know that you were assigned to a difficult PC where the Congress MP Candidate, Mallikarjun Kharge, a nine time MLA and sitting MP is the opponent that you have to deal with at your first stint

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                                                                My First Press Meet (right to the speaker)

I was asked to call up the Booth In-charge of PC to ask him to arrange the basic arrangements I needed over there. I booked my bus ticket to Gulbarga after making a presentation to the team. But I couldn’t calm myself down thinking that I, a novice in politics, have to work with the BJP MP candidate and the district BJP team. I got hold of a fellow PC coordinator and had a briefing from him which helped to plan things for myself upon arrival at Gulbarga. With whatever information that I got I made a work schedule for myself and got it approved by my CAG buddy which calmed me to sleep.

The One with the Real Deal: As soon as I reached Gulbarga on 4thApril, I started off a random interview with an auto driver and got to know that Kharge has a stronghold on the region. Booth In-charge set up a meeting in party office where I presented the analytics report to the PC In-charge, RSS Prachaarak and was able to get their buy-in for our planned activities. They were just extremely supportive of me and introduced me as he’s from Narendra Modiji’s team which of course gave me a good leverage to implement the tasks assigned to me. I was straight away taken to a Booth Level Agents meet where I had to speak in front of party workers about the analytics report.  Suddenly there I was in front of BJP party workers and BJP party leaders introducing me, with that new excitement I presented the report insights. Some of them came to me to report the regions where party’s efforts were not up to mark, I gladly took their inputs which is what I was sent for, to catch the ground pulse and report it to the party leadership. I made another presentation to the core team of the party leadership over there only to know that there were MLAs, ex-MLAs sitting in that meet, which felt strange and thanked CAG in my heart for this opportunity.

The One with the 3D show: I heard about Narendra Modiji’s 3D campaigning in 2012 Gujarat elections and used to wonder that’s a great way to reach people in short time. But never did I think that I would be in-charge of organizing it in his Prime Ministerial campaign. Here I was, sent to Gulbarga to organize one such event to leverage the Modi wave to add the PC to his Mission 272+ seats. It was scheduled to be on 7th April, I was helping the local leadership with the publicity and arrangements. I started to realize the complexity of organizing the event as there were six different teams coming from different parts of the country at different times. There were numerous goof-ups starting from stage measurements to materials, I had to coordinate with the central team and get things going. But later that day I got to know that it’s being cancelled at our venue which was not good for me. I was scared as to how to inform the party persons who were going full throttle on publicity but central team saved me by asking me to keep calm and let the party people know it from their state leaders.

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                                       Crowd starting to turn-out at the 3D event in Gulbarga

The event was postponed to 11thApril which gave us additional time to set things right. On the day right when the event was supposed to take off, I was shocked only to listen Modiji’s voice but not visual. I panicked big time and ran to the satellite in-charge, he then reset the setup and the visuals were on. That was one of the best moments of my life, the adrenaline rush that I had then was just spectacular. The crowd turn-out was too good that roads were jammed with buses halting to let people watch the speech. State BJP General Secretary was in town who too attended the event for a while to appreciate our efforts which gave the sense of accomplishment.

The One with the Surveys: I sent an invite to all the CAG volunteers to leverage that network for campaigning activities. Reality dawned upon me the next day when only few turned up but nevertheless got hold off one enthusiastic volunteer who helped me a great deal and he still calls me which feels great. I had to deal with the volunteer situation as I needed their support in executing the planned surveys that’s when I ran into NaMo Brigade, an independent organization campaigning for Modi. I pitched CAGs plans and explained how mutual cooperation could help achieve the greater good and got the buy-in from their chiefs. It’s not that simple, when I spoke with their city in-charge about actual implementation that’s when I got to know about their apprehensions towards party. Luckily I made a pitch to their representatives of Assembly Constituencies, who kept aside their inhibitions and worked with me which resulted in achieving good number of surveys across ACs in the PC. In fact I even got a chance to present it in a RSS meet and that’s when I realized how strong they were in the region and how much influence they had on BJP party. All the survey results from different ACs of PC were consolidated and sent to the state CAG team who used it to convey to the ground reality to the state BJP.


                                                                   3D Event Stage Set-Up

The One with the IDIs: First year marketing courses introduced me to the concept of In-Depth Interviews form a crucial part of Qualitative Research. I did not get an opportunity to use that research tool to gain insights on soaps or tooth-pastes but on opinions of local influencers in Gulbarga. I had to gather a list of influencers in the region who are not affiliated to any political party so that I can go and get their interviews to unearth neutral opinions about the critical issues existing in the region. Parties more often than not have a biased view about political issues, my job was to catch hold of the people’s pulse and convey the same to the leadership to work on it. As and when I was speaking to journalists, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, professors I truly got to know the perspectives which I couldn’t get from the party people. Based on these inputs, I got to develop a three pronged strategy which I shared with the local party leadership and state CAG team. I went and met the party MP candidate and was given a short opportunity to debrief him in a car between two villages, made my best appeal to him which was well received and appreciated. 

The One with the Power Star: Voting in Karnataka was scheduled on 17th April, before the final showdown there were interesting turn of events on 15th April. I got to know that my favorite Telugu movie star Pawan Kalyan, founder of Jana Sena party, agreed to campaign for BJP in Gulbarga as the region had Telugu speaking people in its borders. I spoke to Booth In-charge and we both took off to the venue to see arrangements. On the way, as Telugu is my mother tongue he asked me to go to pick him up and brief him on the way back about Gulbarga. When we went to the venue, there was no crowd so I started off to the helipad location where news broke that he cancelled the meeting as permissions were delayed. That’s when I got to know that Kharge specifically came to that Assembly Constituency that day to delay the proceedings. On my way back, I was disappointed but what astounded me was that the venue and roads were filled with people all over. Even more astounding thought was that how would the party people managed to escape people’s brunt after much publicized event going down the drain. I was surprised to see the party leaders were not really depressed instead they were having a good laugh about the escapade. It just felt that they got accustomed to such mishaps which taught me how to take things when they go wrong, no matter how big.

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                                                                   3D Stage-Not an original one

The One with the War-room: Historically the PC had low voter turn-out and from the feedback that I’ve got it resulted in the favor of INC. So, special focus was laid by our state team to push for higher polling percentages. The plan was to monitor hour to hour polling percentages and mobilize the party squads to increase the polling in booths which were safe and favorable towards BJP. Simple but effective plan requires great amounts of coordination to implement and convince the local leaders. When pitched, one of the veterans asked me ‘What is your age? I’ve been in politics more than for more years than your age, don’t tell all of these to me’ and hung up the call. That’s a bad experience but was told that he is one of the unhappy persons in the party for various other reasons. That’s when I recollected the Principal-Agent problem concept learnt in HRM, here the local MLA seat aspirants are agents and the MP candidate is the Principal and their goals were not aligned leading to lack of support from the entire party cadre. However, I felt very happy when the polling percentage increased from 49 to 58 with the efforts that I put in with the limited resources. I had to pack things off to Bangalore to meet the state BJP leadership and give feedback on my stint at Gulbarga.

The One with the review: I have always wondered about youth’s involvement in politics and I got some valuable lessons where youth could get stuck. In politics, hierarchy is not what that rules at ground level but the fact is that the one’s in the position may not be the most influential in that region. We should have the knack of catching hold of the persons who can get things done but not the one in hold of a particular position. My task gets even more difficult as I have to get my planned activities implemented by and with ones who are neither accountable nor answerable to me whatsoever. Another thing that I noticed was that I was doing my job in providing ground level feedback to the state leadership but there was no measurement systems in place as to how that feedback is percolating down the hierarchical levels. Few days before the voting day, an MLA questioned me ‘What’s the status now?’ to which I had to definitive answers as the survey methodology wasn’t that comprehensive to extract detailed results in such a short time. We should also have a system to measure the impact of our campaigning support is what I learnt from that bitter experience. I’ve provided the same feedback to the state CAG team and was given choice to select one location from Bihar, UP and Gujarat for the next assignment. ‘Whoever wins Uttar Pradesh wins India’ made me want to be at the center of action with four parties fighting each other to win the state, so I said UP. Little did I know what was in store for me at Uttar Pradesh, I returned to Hyderabad for a break where I received my next assignment location, Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh. I googled and found it to be in Purvanchal belt with Nepal, Gorakhpur and Bihar as neighboring regions, I took off instantly as the elections were scheduled on 12th May in that PC. 

The One with the Choupan: I got down at Gorakhpur and from where I took a ticket to Maharajganj in bus. The conductor said ‘Choupan’, being from Hyderabad I speak decently well in Hindi but that’s not my mother tongue, so I had a problem I came up with my own calculation. I understood it as forty one and gave him a hundred note and one rupee coin. He gave me a strange look and said choupan again, I gave up asked him to speak in English and then gave him the right change. This was just the beginning, I had to deal with this day in and day out for the next couple of weeks. As a part of my job, I need lot of contact numbers, whenever I ask for number people start going ‘Chauraanve thirpan’ I had to stop them and ask for English numbers as I couldn’t translate numbers that fast.

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                                                                      3D event at Maharajganj

Since the region was in border with Nepal and Bihar, the people over there had a thick accent mixed with Bhojpuri and Nepali. It made my life more difficult in communicating with people for interviews, surveys and other campaign related activities. Another sweet thing that I had to face was almost everybody there barring few exceptions had lots and lots of gutka in their mouths. Now God knows what they speak with that amount of gutka, with that thick accent, I had such a horrible time in working there, I almost got stalled, I was just doing the bare minimum there unlike Gulbarga. This brought a clarity in my career paths that if I ever were get a chance to be on a sales team in Uttar Pradesh I shouldn’t be taking it up unless I improve my Hindi.

The One with the Sir: Attribute it to Hyderabad or South India or my upbringing but I do have a habit of calling elders Sir. Now even as nothing as that can be an issue in my campaign management support activities. Even I didn’t know that until one of my colleagues, who got deported to the same PC, pointed out it to me. If somebody calls sir in the place I come from it’s not that of a big deal, but that’s not the same in Maharajganj, as soon as you call someone Sir, their ego boosts up and starts feeling superior to you. I laughed it off in the beginning but when I started to closely observe people there was a difference the way they treated me and my colleague, who only tries to rub them off the wrong side. It took quite some time for me to digest that as simple as that can determine your whole course of activities. It really was a challenge for me to shed off my habit in such a short time and adapt to the situations. I might have failed but I tested my boundaries and now I know my weaknesses. I can and will work upon it.

The episodes list just keeps going on so to cut short I would like to mention one important event in brief. Icing on the internship was when I bypassed the security to stand on the stage close to the one from where Narendra Modiji addressed the crowd of Maharajganj. It was great to finish off the campaigning on such a high note by watching him in person delivering another power packed speech.



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                                                   Modiji addressing massive crowd at Maharajganj

The counting day has arrived and NDA had a thumping majority in the 2014 General Elections just making my entire internship more fruitful. Personal record is set at 1-1 with BJP winning in Maharajganj and losing in Gulbarga. Kharge was just too big to be defeated in his own fort, he even went on to become the opposition leader in the parliament. BJP lost in the PC where I have put in all my efforts and BJP won in the PC where I haven’t given my best, making Politics a real irony. Nevertheless it taught me a great lesson, you are just an instrument, do not worry about the destiny. Just keep working. Thank you IIM Lucknow and CAG India.

Avinash SPravara

fun lovin guy...