How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones

(This essay has appeared in the July 2019 issue of the journal ‘Seminar‘ under the title ‘Modi was the message’.)

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Narendra Modi’s use of narrative as a political tool is akin to how a versatile batsman plays cricket. He can deal with any kind of ball thrown at him, exploiting opportunities to score sixes and warding off threats to remain on the pitch. Continue reading “How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones”

Everything you wanted to know about social media in Indian politics and elections

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in The Telegraph on 31 March 2019.)

Sometime in the late 2000s, a young software engineer who voluntarily ran social media propaganda for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party got an opportunity to attend a BJP social media meet in Bangalore. Among the people who saw this young man speak there was the then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. “Why don’t you do something for me,” Modi said to him, encouraging him to promote Modi on social media. Around the same time, the Congress party was telling Shashi Tharoor to go easy on Twitter.

Today that young man is arguably one of India’s most important people, part of a select group of people informally used by the top echelons of the ruling party and the government to influence the online narrative. He’s regularly trying to make this or that trend

on Twitter, running WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages that reach millions of people. When he met Modi during the 2014 campaign, the PM-to-be told him, “Keep it up. We have to make mainstream media irrelevant.” Continue reading “Everything you wanted to know about social media in Indian politics and elections”

The inside story of what Cambridge Analytica actually did in India

(First published in ThePrint, 27 March 2018.)

Alexander Nix and others of SCL Laboratories tried working in India on a project in 2011, but it collapsed in 2012 as Nix’s secret plan was accidentally outed. 

New Delhi: Cambridge Analytica, the controversial UK political consultancy, claims on its website that it worked on the Bihar assembly elections in 2010, and its clients won a landslide victory.

Formed in 2013, Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm is Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). It has worked in India through an Indian company called Strategic Communication Laboratories Private Limited. Company records show the firm has four directors: Alexander James Ashburner Nix, Alexander Waddington Oakes, Amrish Kumar Tyagi, and Avneesh Kumar Rai.

The first two are British citizens who were among the four co-founders of SCL in the UK in 2005. Amrish Tyagi is the son of Janata Dal (United) leader K.C. Tyagi. He also runs the firm Ovleno Business Intelligence, which now works with Cambridge Analytica in India.

But who is Avneesh Kumar Rai, the fourth director of SCL India? Continue reading “The inside story of what Cambridge Analytica actually did in India”

Why Demonetisation’s Failure Didn’t Benefit The Opposition

[This article first appeared in HuffPost India on 2 September 2017.]

It is easy to give post-facto explanations for anything. The Delhi commentariat consensus is that demonetisation’s real intention was political — in other words, the Modi government knew the economic disaster it would beget. Secondly, we are told demonetisation helped the BJP win the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Continue reading “Why Demonetisation’s Failure Didn’t Benefit The Opposition”

May We Ask Just One Question About Modi’s Permanent Campaign?

By Shivam Vij

Governing with political approval requires a continuing political campaign, wrote a pollster for US President Jimmy Carter in 1976. This gave birth to the theory of permanent campaign.

Reliance on political patronage and the party organization gave way to pollsters, campaign strategists, data and technology. By the time the Bill Clinton era arrived, this had given way to the idea of the permanent election. The administration behaved as though an election was always round the corner.

Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign was never over. He’s always campaigning, always pitching, as if an election is always round the corner. An election is indeed always round the corner in India, and every state election is seen as a referendum on Modi.  Continue reading “May We Ask Just One Question About Modi’s Permanent Campaign?”

In Punjab Face-Off, AAP Seems To Have Fallen Into A Congress Trap

(This article by me first appeared in HuffPost India on 18 April 2016.)

Did the Aam Aam Party yesterday fall into the trap of giving the Congress what it wants: moving the political discourse from everything else to the persona of Congress leader Amarinder Singh?

Continue reading “In Punjab Face-Off, AAP Seems To Have Fallen Into A Congress Trap”

Amarinder Is ‘Punjab Da Captain’ To Remind Voters Where Kejriwal Comes From

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in HuffPost India on 11 April 2016.)

It’s a sketch of a blue turban, a yellow inner turban prominently revealing itself through it. The background is white; there is no face. It’s the logo of ‘Punjab da Captain’, Prashant Kishor’s campaign to project Congress leaders Amarinder Singh for the chief minister’s chair. The idea may seem obvious, but there’s more to those three words and the sketch than meets the eye.

Continue reading “Amarinder Is ‘Punjab Da Captain’ To Remind Voters Where Kejriwal Comes From”

Our political pandit-ji: A profile of Prashant Kishor

(First published in Mumbai Mirror, 6 March 2016.)

After an incident of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab last year, the Congress legislator for Khadoor Sahib in Taran Taran resigned. A by-poll was held. The Aam Aadmi Party, which has taken Punjab by storm, said it wouldn’t contest. The Congress party wasn’t sure if it should. What if it lost? Yet, not throwing a hat in the ring could be taken as a sign of weakness. Will Congress, won’t they, was a matter of political speculation in Punjab for many days. Continue reading “Our political pandit-ji: A profile of Prashant Kishor”

Why Red And Yellow Are Nitish-Lalu’s Colours This Bihar Election

(First published in HuffPost India, 20 October 2015.)

PATNA — The visuals of the Grand Alliance’s outdoor campaigning stand out not only for the lack of clutter, but also for their colours. The hoardings, the 300 raths traversing Bihar, the election stage–everything in the Grand Alliance’s election campaign in Bihar is blood red in colour. Some of the hoardings are yellow, and some of the early Nitish Kumar hoardings were in a bright multi-colour pattern that would have better suited a mobile phone advertisement. Continue reading “Why Red And Yellow Are Nitish-Lalu’s Colours This Bihar Election”

Amit Shah vs Prashant Kishor: Who will be wizard for forthcoming Bihar elections?

Firstpost, 20 July 2015

The forthcoming assembly election in Bihar is arguably the most important state election during Narendra Modi’s tenure as prime minister. Bihar’s result will have an impact on the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2017. If the BJP is unable to fly its flag in Patna and Lucknow, it will have frittered away the chance to reap long-term benefits from the Modi wave of 2014.

The election will also be a litmus test for Amit Shah whose reputation as an electoral wizard has been dented considerably by the gargantuan AAP victory in Delhi. With so much at stake, the man in the BJP crosshairs, however, is not even a member of the JD(U). Continue reading “Amit Shah vs Prashant Kishor: Who will be wizard for forthcoming Bihar elections?”