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Election moves: BJP hires group of IITians to run poll campaign in Assam

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:02 IST

The team

  • Group of IIT professionals are handling BJP\'s Assam poll campaign
  • Their purpose is to figure the ground reality and give inputs for the manifesto
  • The BJP is also pushing its agenda via social media, far more than the Congress

More in the story

  • How did they go about their research?
  • What did the campaign groups discover?

Hidden from the prying eyes of the media is a team of IIT professionals managing BJP's campaign for the forthcoming assembly polls in Assam.

Their mandate is also to provide "vital inputs" for the manifesto, expected to be released within a few days. Assam goes to polls on 4 and 11 April in what could easily be the most interesting and unpredictable assembly elections ever to be held in the State.

Also read - Assam Election 2016: Illegal immigration, Bengali Muslims & the AIUDF factor

Rajat Sethi, one of the founders of Arthasastra Foundation, heads the group and is joined by four others who have been engaged with the job since September 2015, after a series of meetings with BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav.

Himself a graduate from IIT Kharagpur, Sethi is assisted by three colleagues from the same institute - Aashish Sogani, Mahendra Shukla and Ashish Mishra - and a young BJP functionary Subhrashta, who landed in Assam straight after the assembly polls in Bihar last year.

What is their methodology?

The team has been researching, gathering data, meeting people and filing RTIs, to grasp the "ground reality and the changing mood" in Assam ahead of the polls.

The group began their operation with an analysis of the polling booths in Assam to identify the voting patterns and socio-economic indicators of each constituency. At the start of this year they realised that the campaign would have to be "low cost, people-oriented, unique and focused at the micro level."

BJP's poll campaign in Assam is being handled by a small group from IIT Kharagpur

"In Assam, the campaign has been quite different from Bihar where we relied heavily on outsiders. Here (Assam) we have used commoners to campaign for the party. So you will often see BJP posters in paan shops and behind auto rickshaws. The idea is not only to win elections but to strengthen the cadre base," said Shubhrastha who is a former journalist and co-founder of Arthasastra Foundation

The amount of data gathered from the research will also be heard in songs and outbound calls and seen in SMSs in the coming days as the countdown begins for the polls.

Findings and game plan

The group was astounded with their findings on poverty and unemployment in Assam. The state, incidentally, happens to be the fourth poorest in the country, and its position plummeted from among the top at the time of independence.

Another issue that has been publicised is the danger from illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the State. BJP is pitching for a "Khilonjia Sarkar" (government of the indigenous people) to sway votes and capitalising on the apprehension among the indigenous population of being reduced to a minority like the locals in Tripura and Sikkim.

The group began its work by analysing polling booths and voting patterns in Assam

The fear has been compounded by rumours that the All India United Democratic Front which has a base among migrant Muslims might be invited by the Congress to form a coalition government if the latter wins a sizeable number of seats. The Congress, in turn, has alleged that there is a secret understanding between the BJP and AIUDF.

In reality though, the NDA regime has equally neglected the danger from illegal immigration in Assam. The best example is the report submitted by former Assam Governor Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha in 1998 which suggested a slew of measures to check the influx from the neighbouring country. The report has been put on cold storage and it is doubtful if the BJP leaders are even aware about it.

On 3 January, home minister Rajnath Singh admitted in Guwahati that he had never heard of the report when asked by a former bureaucrat if the government had plans to implement the recommendations.

The campaign group seems to be aware of the pitfalls, but claims that the Centre is serious and contemplating long-term measures to tackle the issue.

Illegal Bangladeshi migrants are a key concern in the Assam that will affect the polling patterns

All these concerns, including mis-governance, have been highlighted mostly on social media, where Sethi and his colleagues appear to be more active than the Congress.

One post on Facebook carried photographs of AIUDF Chief Maulana Badruddin Ajmal next to BJP state president Sarbananda Sonowal, who has been projected as the chief ministerial candidate by the party. "Whom will you vote for?" the poster asks.

Another post highlights the condition of the incomplete Bogibeel Bridge across the Brahmaputra. And they've compared it to the time taken to complete the construction of the Taj Mahal.

The team is heavily pushing its campaign on social media and establishing its presence online

Another functionary of the BJP associated with the campaign explained that the barbs were not planned initially, but they came as a reaction to the "negative campaign" by the Congress which was apparent in the banners and posters put up against PM Narendra Modi. Many of them are seen on the dividers on G S Road in Guwahati at various locations rebuking Modi's promise of "Achhe Din."

The campaign team has now decided to reply in the same vein and focus on the unfulfilled commitments and failures of the Congress government in Assam with data and documents through every medium possible.

Edited by Anna Verghese

More in Catch -

Assam polls: stand against immigrants is BJP's trump card

Expect Congress to bounce back in Assam as BJP, AIUDF stay confused

No Grand Alliance in Assam: Congress & AIUDF fail to strike a deal

First published: 23 March 2016, 7:01 IST
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.