Political Consultancy Firms – the new normal?
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Author: Swarnima Sreedeep
The clout of political consultancy firms is growing in India. It is fast becoming a permanent feature of our political arena. More and more parties are discontinuing the traditional methods of meeting voters during the pre-poll phase and are ensuring that political consultancy firms take up this job.
The way it works
A political consultancy has different approaches in each state and for every political party. The consultancy’s political public relation officer ( PRO) is one who discusses and sort’s out issues between voters and the party members. Media PROs update the client about the state of affairs in each constituency. They are the ones who prepare the day to day activities of the client. It is the team leader who guides all the public relation officers. The war room also has content writers, data analysts, technicians, and a whole lot of people who are usually recruited from prestigious institutes including IIMs and IITs.
In the traditional approach, it is the booth level karyakartas who are aware of the ground realities. They convey it to the village heads, which eventually reaches the regional leader and then to the main leader. In reality, very loose communication takes place. This is where political consultancies step in. They have their advanced team to reduce the gap and they enhance communication right from the ground level to the top notch leader.
Dissatisfaction in the lower cadres
Though it is an easy way for the leaders to secure their win, it must be noted that the booth level workers lose confidence and enthusiasm. They feel dejected at the very thought of the party outsourcing their work to a bunch of English speaking youngsters. This hampers the growth of the booth level workers which will be detrimental for the party in the long run. In a way, when the karyakartas are not being entrusted with the duties which they should be, it will gradually cause a negative impact for the party in its near future.
Soon enough, if this trend continues, we will see disheartened party cadres with more and more workers leaving the party which was once their oxygen!
Where the firms step in
Scholars suggest citizens may ultimately cast their vote in the name of a party (and not the candidate). However, most parties are weakly institutionalized and have poor party machinery at the local level. In the absence of party workers who could be relied upon for accurate information or to undertake campaign activity on the ground, a candidate may choose to depend upon political consultants to top up the organizational efforts of the party workers.
The exorbitant rates
The rate for consultancies starts from lakhs to hundreds of crores . These days, it is more like the consultancy firms whitewashing the past portfolios of their client/clients and then selling them to the voters in the form of MPs/MLAs.
The actual figures of how much is paid are never made public and neither has the Election Commission of India made them accountable to disclose their election expenditures.
Prashant Kishore and I-PAC
Prashant Kishore remains the primus inter pares of political consultants in India and has become a household name. His I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) is the most sought after firm with the best track record available in the country.
The team led by him has worked for parties across the political spectrum which includes BJP, INC, AAP, AITC, YSRCP, DMK, and TMC.
He started with CAG ( Citizens for Accountable Governance) and worked for the 2012 Gujarat Legislative Assembly and the 2014 General election. The Chai pe Charcha discussions,3D rallies, Run for Unity, etc are all his brain children.
Later, he parted ways with BJP and formed the I-PAC. Since then, I-PAC has been involved in managing election campaigns in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, and all the way to Tanzania.
The latest project of I-PAC is the West Bengal election wherein Mamata Banerjee and TMC had sought the assistance of I-PAC. The TMC won 213 out of 292 constituencies.
Reportedly, the I-PAC team consists of around 879 people, out of which 479 are core team members, while another 400 employees were on a contract.
The core team will move to Punjab a month later to assist the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government for the February 2022 polls. The latest reports confirm that Prashant is all ready to set up a brand new I-PAC team in Bihar and concentrate there.
The I-PAC model is for sure undermining the essence of democracy. Political parties have traditionally been platforms where a collaboration of opinions takes place. However, with firms taking up the campaign, there will be no internal feedback mechanism which will cause irreparable damage to the parties in the future.
Even though we charge the I-PAC model with undermining the party system, it has to be accepted that the reason a consultancy can play an outsized role is because of most parties being weakly institutionalized.
Disclaimer: This article is purely written from the author’s point of view