Bottom line of the election is trust: Co-founder and director of I-PAC

The idea, according to him, was to showcase Jagan as challenging the opposition to bring it on.
Rishi Raj Singh, Co-founder and Director of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC)
Rishi Raj Singh, Co-founder and Director of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC)

VIJAYAWADA: Away from the election campaign, and yet, in the thick of action is Rishi Raj Singh, Co-founder and Director of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), the political consulting firm working for the ruling YSRC. Crafting and executing strategies online and offline, he and his team are locked in this Mahabharat war of sorts, not just with the TDP-BJP-JSP alliance, but also their one-time colleagues who are working for the opposition through Showtime Consulting.

Seated in his office near Benz circle, the 34-year-old is predictably upbeat about Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s prospects. “The bottom line of this election is trust. Eventually, I believe there is conscience in the society, and their collective decision is always correct. We are not worried about the Land Titling Act out of which the opposition has created a controversy. People understand the truth. Lies can be spread quickly, but for people to buy into them, they will have to believe. Truth will always have selling power,” he says in a free-wheeling chat with TNIE. He is of the view that the fight will be tough but results clear.

It is always interesting to see an election through the eyes of a strategist. Despite being just 34, Rishi has been in the field for over a decade. From being an IITian to an investment banker and a political strategist, he has worked with his mentor Prashant Kishor for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign in 2014, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Nitish Kumar, and Captain Amarinder Singh among others. I-PAC has been with Jagan for long, playing a role in his 2019 victory. Now too, Rishi cites many reasons for expecting an en core though Kishor is no longer with I-PAC and if anything, is believed to be rooting for the opposition.

“Any campaign has largely three-four legs: Leader, positive propaganda, negative propaganda which is attacking the opponent, and lastly, the organization. If I were to compare YSRC and TDP, in terms of leadership, the latter is at a great disadvantage,” Rishi claims. The reasoning being that people wonder how long will TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu be at the helm of affairs and the lack of clarity on a successor. “Despite Yuva Galam, Lokesh has not come out as a leader and major parts of the party are not confident of his leadership,” he opines.

On Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, he has a rather interesting take. Pawan’s major mistake, he believes, was to brand himself a community leader. “In today’s time, any leader would find it extremely difficult if he brands himself a community leader. Such cannot win even as a legislator. Jana Sena is contesting 13-14 seats while its other candidates are TDP-affiliated,” he observes.

In contrast, Jagan chose the State as his field and people see that he will be there for decades to come while on the other side, there is no clarity, he emphasizes. He poses intriguing questions to buttress his a arguments—Will Jana Sena accept Lokesh’s leadership? Will TDP cadre accept Pawan Kalyan?

Elaborating on the organisational point, he observes that TDP cadre isn’t highly functional wherever Jana Sena is contesting and vice-versa. “Their alliance is not a done deal,” he says. The logic is that TDP cadre wouldn’t support enthusiastically an MP candidate of say BJP or Jana Sena who doesn’t have a TDP background. Why? “It might have worked in Bihar but in Andhra, politics is very territorial. YSRCP has no such issue. It is far more united and prepared organizationally,” he replies.

On the positive propaganda aspect, he explains how they came up with the slogan Siddham for YSRC. “It was the time when two MPs were leaving the party and we were releasing the candidates’ list. There were some internal issues. The opposition announced their alliance. Then there was talk of BJP joining them and Congress was bringing in Sharmila garu which is kind of a support system for the alliance. We decided then on branding.”

The idea, according to him, was to showcase Jagan as challenging the opposition to bring it on.

“Secondly, the most important thing is defining the Why for the election. If I have to deliver a message, do you think people will listen? I will have to clap and then they listen. The huge ramp, background score and lakhs of people is akin to clapping to get the public ear. What Jagan delivered was the why—if you want welfare to continue, you re-elect me looking at my performance,” the I-PAC director explains. He says that without the why factor, voters will get bored and vote for the other side by default. The marginal change in manifesto is also a part of the continuing narrative of trust, he adds.

On the other hand, there is no answer to the question of why with the alliance, he says. “Why did you form the alliance? If it is to win against one person, to my mind, nobody won this way in the last decade.” The strategist also believes that if the opposition highlighted its Super Six guarantees, it was as good as validating Jagan’s welfare agenda. “What is the development point in their manifesto? Not even one. If they were crying about development all this while, they should have put up some in the manifesto! Jagan has not added even a single additional welfare scheme,” he points out. Analysing further, he says the opposition is only banking on negative propaganda which is like banking on a one-legged chair.

Pressed on his mentor Prashant Kishor’s take on Jagan that he is losing big, Rishi replies rather modestly, “Prashant Kishor has been a mentor. I don’t have anything to say about what he had said.”

Crediting his mentor for the opportunities he got, he, however, sounds pragmatic. “I would be too naive to believe everything in life is hunky dory. This is a jungle. So you’d have to face everybody,” he says comparing I-PAC face-off with rival political consultants to the Mahabharat where one-time gurus, and brothers found themselves on opposing sides.

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