The questions come one after the other in Punjabi, but the caller is polite. “If you don’t mind, may I ask which party you voted for in the last elections?” “Who should be the next Chief Minister of Punjab?… Which party are you going to vote for in the coming elections in Punjab?… Are you satisfied with the performance of the MLA of your constituency?”
The caller identifies himself as a student of “CGC Chandigarh College”, and says the call is for a “college project” on Punjab polls. But The Indian Express traced the calls to a call centre engaged by Congress’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC).
IPAC founder member and director Rishi Raj, when contacted, said its volunteers were carrying out various surveys, including making calls to the people from call centres. “We had appointed college captains [to canvass for the Congress]… Perhaps, some of them might be making calls. I will have to find that out,” said Raj.
Prabhdeep Singh, head of the department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Chandigarh University (one of the Chandigarh Group of Colleges ), denied that the CGC was getting any sort of survey done related to Punjab polls.
At E-21 in industrial area phase-7 of Mohali, about 30 callers, men and women, fitted into two room, are busy making calls from the call centre run by Northern IT Service Pvt Limited, the IT firm engaged by IPAC for the job. They work in a shift from 9 am to 6 pm.
The caller begins by asking which constituency the respondent belongs to before seeking feedback on a set of questions, including whether the respondent wants the existing legislator to be voted out or voted back again.
“Across the world, who tells the truth at call centres. Subhash becomes Rajesh in call centres,” said the in-charge of the call centre on Monday, identifying himself as Saaz, “a law graduate”, when asked why callers were posing as students and calling it a college project.
For further queries, he advised this correspondent to visit IPAC office in phase 8 industrial area of Mohali to get “detailed information”.
He said the callers had been provided by the IPAC. The facility at E-21 is also tabulating data. A walk-in recruitment is on for the post of data entry operators. “We have come here after going through an advertisement about the requirement of data entry operators,” said a man accompanying his wife, who had applied for the post of data entry operator.
“Such exercise has been on for some months now. It is basically to know the trends, to get the feedback of the people. It helps us know what was the situation three months back and what is the situation now,” said Rishi Raj. “Call Centre is one thing. Our volunteers are interacting with the people at the booth level to know the mood at ground level.”