The focus on development at the heart of the poll campaign and outreach to non-political voters helped the BJP reap rich dividends in the BMC polls, according to some of the strategists who were part of the team in the party’s war room.
The BJP ran an aggressive election campaign in the past few months, which helped the party boost its tally to 82 seats from 31 in 2012. After the two-decade-old alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena was called off in January, the BJP fielded 195 candidates, leaving 32 for its allies, while the Sena nominated candidates in all 227 wards. The results of the civic polls show that the BJP managed to secure a large chunk of its seats in the western and eastern suburbs.
Shweta Shalini, who headed the BJP’s war room, said that the party had a strong strategy to keep the message of development as the focus of the campaign. “In the Indian sensibility, idols make sense to people and during the elections, we created Ram in the form of the chief minister and conceptualised a developmental model. We focused on projects such as WiFi and Mumbai Metro, among other issues,” she said. According to Shalini, unlike the concept of a centralised war room in past elections, this time the BJP mobilised its forces, which helped to expand the campaign’s reach. “Elections are like a festival in politics and the ideal scenario is when the voter becomes a party worker. Through innovative measures like the 3D hologram of the Chief Minister, we were able to directly engage with people and since it worked out well, we are planning to keep the application running, so that Fadnavis can continue speaking to the people,” she said.
Praful Nikam, the party’s data mining expert who did a large part of the data analysis and had come up with new strategies, said he was a little surprised at the accuracy of their prediction.
“About three months ago, we had predicted that we would win between 80-85 seats and now, after looking at the ground reality, most of the predictions that we had made about individual seats have turned out to be true. Our calculation was always to expand in the suburban parts of the city,” he said.
Keeping the focus on non-political voters and maintaining a positive undertone in the campaign helped the BJP connect with voters, he said. “The trends we have observed since the 2007 elections indicate that the number of non-political voters are increasing and this time, the voter turnout was proof of that. A political fight doesn’t appeal to the non-political voters and the promises of transparency connected with the masses well. Another thing that really worked for us was that we defined our own strategy and we were able to stick to it without getting diverted by opposition parties,” said Nikam.
Devang Dave, who headed the BJP’s social media team, said that keeping the element of humour in their rebuttals attracted a lot of people who were not politically inclined.
Referring to the cartoons of Khau Sena, he said, “We were able to keep the opposition engaged in a social media war. The Sena spoke on limited topics, while we were able to raise questions over accountability, addressing the problems people were facing. Our reaction to Sena’s statements would be more sarcastic and humorous, like the cartoon and the videos, and became viral in no time.”
Dave said that having the CM as the voice of the campaign lent more credibility.