FOR THE Samajwadi Party as well as political consultant Steve Jarding, his assignment in Uttar Pradesh marks a first. The SP has engaged professional help from abroad for the first time, while Jarding is looking forward to his first campaign in India after having advised politicians in various countries.
Jarding is a lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School — he has a course called ‘The Making of a Politician’ — and a founding partner and CEO of the consultancy SJB Strategies International. At home, Jarding has worked earlier on campaigns of candidates for the US Senate as well as governors’ elections. Away, he has worked on campaigns in Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia and Romania.
Jarding, who has had three meetings with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav since, replied to questions on the assignment by email and over phone. Excerpts from the interview:
How did Samajwadi Party get in touch with you?
The Samajwadi Party connected with me through a friend of mine in India named Adwait Singh, a former student at Harvard. Adwait [27, based in Lucknow, LLM from Harvard] knows that I am very interested in India politics and working with next-generation leaders and he highly recommended that I meet with the CM. He made the introductions and got the first meeting set up in June. The relationship then developed from that meeting.
Is this the first proposal you got from India?
This is my first campaign in India but not the first work I have done there with media training. This was not the first proposal to work in India either but it is one I am very excited to work with.
What made you decide to take up the assignment?
I am extremely impressed with the CM and after meeting him, I pretty quickly came to believe that he has all the skills and understanding to be a great public servant… He is also willing to listen and wants to get better.
What will your responsibilities be?
First, the CM has a very strong team in place already and that is extremely important. My role is to add value to that group in the areas of campaign management practices, media training and messaging. These are roles I have played in campaigns around the world and they offer a good fit here.
How is it different from your other assignments?
They are all different but they all have many similarities. When I work in a country, I have to first have a great team on the ground with which to work… My hope is that I can then bring best practices to the team in the areas of campaign management, messaging skills, voter targeting, voter persuasion and voter turnout efforts. Many of these practices are fairly uniform to campaigns everywhere…
What groundwork has already been done in this large state with 403 constituencies?
As a rule, I don’t normally discuss campaign strategy in a public forum. But I will say the CM has a very strong record of accomplishment and service to the UP and it is our job to make sure that people throughout the 403 constituencies know just what a fantastic job he has done working for them.
Who will be the face of the campaign?
The campaign team is still being assembled and Adwait is handling the work as my deputy on the field, but there are a lot of very talented people already involved and some of those will certainly speak for and be a part of the public face of the campaign. I will say, however, that the best face of the campaign is that of the CM.
What will be the key takeaway from this campaign?
I believe that campaigns are living entities that change rapidly. Helping bring best practices to the effort from worldwide experiences hopefully will help the CM and his party be successful.
How will expenses be met?
Again as a rule, I would not discuss internal campaign decisions in a public forum.
How will you handle the feud in the Samajwadi Party family?
My experience is that most people know family matters are just that, “family matters”, and that they are normally worked out within family members who at the end of the day love each other regardless of differences… Families normally work through their differences and move on and that is as it should be and that is what I believe will happen here.
Are India-based political strategists, such as Prashant Kishor for the Congress, a challenge? They are aware of local equations and political issues.
Of course, I have great respect for successful strategists. But I know that the CM has his own political strategists, who are aware of local equations and political issues. My role is to let that talent work as it needs to and to instead add value to the existing talent in areas where I can offer new perspectives.
How many people will be working for you here?
I hate to be difficult, but again, it would not be prudent to offer too much publicly about the internal workings of the campaign. Some of these profiles will become evident as things move forward, but for now, I would leave it at that.
Is it true that your students are already working for various parties in India?
To be exact, I got 51 mails from my students in India. I am proud that about 15-20 of them are actively working on the field for different political parties and government and are in regular touch with me.
How much time will you be able to devote to UP, given your other assignments?
… I have tried to clear my schedule as much as possible. In the next few weeks, I will try to settle some of the pending things and hope that by late November or December, I will virtually be camping there till the end of the campaign for the UP elections.