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Thursday, September 16, 2021

CM to ticket aspirants, it’s spin doctor season in Punjab election test

While Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has replaced Prashant Kishor, who gave up the role, with a grandson, and Akali Dal leader Sukbir Singh Badal has hired Mindshare Analytics, lesser-known candidates from across parties are also hiring such firms.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: September 11, 2021 9:17:58 am
Sukhbir Badal's ‘Gal Punjab Di’ campaign has been designed by Mindshare Analytics. (Express)

From big firms to new start-ups, from Chennai to Palamu, agencies offering campaign services to candidates and political parties are making a beeline for poll-bound Punjab.

If Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has replaced Prashant Kishor, who gave up the role, with a grandson, and Akali Dal leader Sukbir Singh Badal has hired Mindshare Analytics, lesser-known candidates from across parties are also hiring such firms. The fees can go up to Rs 2 crore, but smaller firms are willing to offer services for even Rs 5 lakh per seat.

Besides Chennai-based Sunil Kanugolu’s Mindshare Analytics, other agencies that have already started on-ground surveys for their clients include Chandigarh-based Design Boxed, Bengaluru-based Poll Matrix Consulting Private Limited, Palamu (Jharkhand)-based Cognet Arambha Services and PoliticalEDGE from Gurgaon, among others.

While most parties and candidates are cagey about their deals, the package mostly includes surveys, door-to-door reach, social media handling, creative designing, photography and videography, editing and other services. Content writers are being hired, with knowledge of Punjabi apart from English and Hindi a must.

Rupinder Singh Raja Gill, a real-estate developer from Khanna, who is seeking the Congress ticket from Sahnewal, has hired Arambha Services. The company is also working for Khanna MLA Gurkirat Kotli and Payal MLA Lakhvir Lakha.

Gill said he decided to hire a firm as the Congress is yet to take a call on an agency for the party. “Things get delayed if we keep waiting for a party-level agency to start the ground work. It is better to prepare at our own level instead of blaming companies later,” Gill said.

Congress MLA Inderbir Singh Bolaria (Amritsar South) and Punjab Education Minister Vijay Inder Singla have given branding and public outreach work to Design Boxed. The company designed ‘Zimmewaar Sangrur’ and ‘Ambassadors of Hope’ outreach campaigns for Singla during Covid.

Poll Matrix Consulting Pvt Ltd — which has its head office in Bengaluru and corporate office in Chandigarh — has been hired by at least six probable candidates from the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress, including an incumbent minister.

Mindshare Analytics recently kicked off its poll work for Badal with the campaign Gal Punjab Di, as part of which the former deputy CM embarked on a yatra across Punjab.

A senior leader from the Akali Dal’s PR & communication team said, “The company will not only look after the party’s campaign overall, it will attach members with each candidate. They will decide what message has to be conveyed to which community. The party has finalised a budget of over Rs 100 crore for campaign activities, including hiring of this company, and we are taking contributions from candidates.”

But, while Mindshare Analytics is working for the party, several Akali candidates such as Dakha MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali and Moga nominee Barjinder Singh Makhan Brar have also hired companies at their own level.

“I am in talks with several companies. It is easier to fight elections when you have a dedicated team for the groundwork,” Brar said. An aide of Ayali admitted hiring a “professional company”, adding they couldn’t share details for fear of competitors taking cues.

Jagpal Singh Abulkhurana, the son of the late cabinet minister Gurnam Singh Abulkhurana, who is vying for the Congress ticket from Lambi, incumbent MLA Parkash Singh Badal’s bastion, says, “You cannot fight an election old-school these days. It is important to focus on social media and connect with youths. For that, professional help is required.”

Damanvir Singh Phillaur, the son of former SAD minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, seeking the Congress ticket from Phillaur, has hired Catalysts PR. His social media pitch is, ‘Ikko aas, Phillaur da vikaas’. While acknowledging the need for such firms, he says, “PR agencies are not chefs, they can only present the dish you make. They cannot create content but can only help us in making that content viral.”

Even AAP candidates have hired firms, in a first for the party in Punjab. Jagdeep Singh Kaka Brar, seeking the AAP ticket from Muktsar, has a ‘Har Haal Halqe Naal’ campaign. “As of now my sister is handling my social media but I am thinking of taking professional help,” he said.

PPCC president and bitter Amarinder Singh rival Navjot Singh Sidhu has a seven-member in-house team looking after his social media and backend work, which calls itself ‘Team Jittega Punjab’. It is led by Smit Singh (30), the son of former Congress MLA Dhanwant Singh and an international skeet shooter and a postgraduate from the University of Oxford.

A team member said Sidhu’s social media and public outreach is “organic”. “He does not need any company or any push. It runs due to its demand. He is his own poll strategist. We just shoot videos and share them. We work on two kinds of videos — theatrical, shot using professional cameras and drones to capture moods and moments, and content videos, in which he speaks and explains his views on Punjab issues,” the member said, adding that the set-up is very informal. “We work like a family, there are no official designations.”

Apart from the candidates themselves, the rates of firms depend on the parties they belong to and the size of their constituencies. Says a market insider, “If the candidate is from AAP, we may charge Rs 20 lakh, while for the same services to SAD, Congress, BJP candidates, we can ask Rs 30-50 lakh. It also depends on the services to be given.”

The social media outreach for Amarinder, who is facing a tough political battle, is being handled by his maternal grandson Nirvan Singh (32), a postgraduate from the UK and the owner of communications company Drumroll Media, registered in Delhi. Nirvan was the brain behind the CM’s ‘Mission Fateh’ campaign, to promote Covid-friendly behaviour, and ‘Ask Captain’ series, in which the CM interacted virtually with people regarding Covid.

In 2017, Kishor’s IPAC was believed to have helped Amarinder return to power with the ‘Punjab Da Captain’ campaign.

“I look after Captain Amarinder’s social media handles in my personal capacity. It has nothing to do with Drumroll Media,” Nirvan said. “Whatever goes on the CM’s handles is posted with his permission and guidance.”

Some leaders, however, are wary, having had a bitter experience with hiring a professional company. Lok Insaf Party (LIP) chief and MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains says he regretted having hired an Amritsar-based firm recently. “They paint a larger-than-life picture but are unable to deliver as promised. We are now handling everything on our own but outsource some videos, creatives for select projects,” said Bains.

Amit Vij, Congress MLA from Pathankot, has decided not to hire PoliticalEDGE, as he had in 2017. PoliticalEDGE though has two AAP leaders from Amritsar as clients now, as per party sources.”My own team will handle work this time,” said Vij.

PoliticalEDGE though has two AAP leaders from Amritsar as clients now, as per party sources.


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