BMC polls 2017: Inside the BJP war room

Having retained some features of BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign and throwing in a few innovative new ideas, young professionals in the party’s war room are putting in long hours every day to ensure a repeat of the 2014 results

Written by Arita Sarkar | Mumbai | Updated: February 10, 2017 8:48:25 am
bmc polls, bmc elections, bmc 2017 elections, bmc polls 2017, mumbai civic polls, mumbai civic elections, mumbai news, indian express news BMC polls 2017: The war room has been decentralised this time around to ensure maximum reach, says BJP spokesperson Shweta Shalini, who heads it. (Express photo)

In the BJP’s ‘war room’, hectic activity can be seen almost round the clock. For, that’s where the campaign strategies for the upcoming Mumbai civic polls are being firmed up. While much of the features of the party’s war room for 2014 Lok Sabha elections have been replicated, the difference this time is that the operations are being handled by a team of young professionals from varied fields who have brought some innovative ideas on the table too.

While the party had initially set up the war room in Walkeshwar in South Mumbai, much of the activities were later shifted to the Mumbai BJP’s head office in Dadar. Moving away from the earlier model for the civic elections, the war room this time around has been decentralised to ensure maximum reach, says BJP spokesperson Shweta Shalini, who heads the party’s war room. “We have adopted the German method of warfare called ‘Blitzkrieg’ and have mobilised our war forces. We have invested in training our party workers even at the taluka level,” she says, adding that apart from the party leaders, staff from Facebook and Twitter have provided training sessions on using social media tools.

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As part of the strategy, says Shalini, the BJP has come up with three aspects of the campaign — above the line (hoardings and radio broadcast), below the line (interactive street plays, LED vans) and one-on-one (calls, messages, emails and door-to-door campaigns). “We have listed out the wards based on the kind of support for the party. For instance, we are confident of winning in 100 wards who are listed in the A+ category and we will send a message to people living in those wards once in two weeks. For the wards where our presence is weak, candidates will do extensive door-to-door campaign,” she adds.

In keeping with the young mindset of the team, 36-year-old Shalini, who has been working with the party for over a decade, says several people apart from party workers have volunteered to work on the election campaign on a permanent or full-time basis, including artists, chartered accountants, doctors, lawyers and marketing agencies. Close to 3,000 party workers and 500 volunteers are involved with the campaign in Mumbai. Volunteers who work full time are given a stipend and the party would be open to absorb any of them after the election campaign, provided their views are in consonance with the party’ sensibilities.

The BJP’s campaign has laid a lot of emphasis on social media steered by 27-year-old Devang Dave, who has been working with the party since 2008. Considering the nature of his work, says the computer engineer, he and members of the social media team put in close to 18 hours daily, starting their day as early as 8 am.

The BJP had carried out a membership campaign last year after which it prepared a database of around 50 lakh supporters in Mumbai. Dave says real time feedback from local areas is integral to their planning. On an average, the social media team puts out around 10 posts on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Apart from constant feedback, the war room has adopted a very data-oriented approach to strategies. Much of the data analysis is done by 33-year-old Praful Nikam, the party’s data mining expert who has taken a sabbatical from his job as an analyst with a Pune-based software company. While the party has set up a war room in various parts of the state, Nikam says the party’s focus is primarily on the elections in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune, Thane and Mumbai.

On a typical day, says Nikam, close to 20 volunteers and 30 party workers carry out the day’s activities at the war room in Dadar. “Our day begins with internal meetings on taking stock of the events lined up for the day, including interviews and rallies, and then we give our input to media management and social media teams. Every day, we have a two-hour meeting with party leaders to discuss any suggestion they may have for fine-tuning the campaign, after which we focus on the day’s events,” he adds.

Apart from new ideas, the party has retained two aspects of the Lok Sabha election war room, which had helped in ensuring a clean sweep for the BJP in 2014. “We have kept the tone of the campaign positive and its effect can be seen in all our messages and posts. The party promises development instead of focusing on communities or religions. The fight is now between the Shiv Sena and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and even though he is not a contesting candidate, pushing a credible party face energises the cadre and wins the support of people,” he says.

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