By the time Rajesh Jain was scaling up his operations in 2013, the BJP’s information technology (IT) strategists had begun interacting with social media platforms like Facebook and its partner WhatsApp. If supporters of the BJP are to be believed, the party was better than others in utilising the micro-targeting potential of the platforms. However, it is also true that Facebook’s employees in India conducted training workshops to help the members of the BJP’s IT cell.
Helping party functionaries were advertising honchos like Sajan Raj Kurup, founder of Creativeland Asia and Prahlad Kakkar, the well-known advertising professional. Actor Anupam Kher became the public face of some of the advertising campaigns. Also assisting the social media and online teams to build a larger-than-life image for Modi before the 2014 elections was a team led by his right-hand man Dr Hiren Joshi, who (as already stated) is a very important adviser to Modi whose writ extends way beyond information technology and social media.
Currently, Officer On Special Duty in the Prime Minister’s Office, he is assisted by two young professional “techies,” Nirav Shah and Yash Rajiv Gandhi. Joshi has had, and continues to have, a close and long-standing association with Facebook’s senior employees in India. In 2013, one of his important collaborators was Akhilesh Mishra who later went on to serve as a director of the Indian government’s website, MyGov India – which is at present led by Arvind Gupta who was earlier head of the BJP’s IT cell.
Mishra is CEO of Bluekraft Digital Foundation. The Foundation has been linked to a disinformation website titled “The True Picture,” has published books authored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and produces campaign videos for NaMo Television, a 24 hour cable television channel dedicated to promoting Modi.
The 2014 Modi pre-election campaign was inspired by the 2012 campaign to elect Barack Obama as the “world’s first Facebook President.” Some of the managers of the Modi campaign like Jain were apparently inspired by Sasha Issenberg’s book on the topic, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. In the first data-led election in India in 2014, information was collected from every possible source to not just micro-target users but also fine-tune messages praising and “mythologising” Modi as the Great Leader who would usher in acche din for the country.
Four teams spearheaded the campaign. The first team was led by Mumbai-based Jain who funded part of the communication campaign and also oversaw voter data analysis. He was helped by Shashi Shekhar Vempati in running NITI and “Mission 272+.” As already mentioned, Shekhar had worked in Infosys and is at present the head of Prasar Bharati Corporation which runs Doordarshan and All India Radio.
The second team was led by political strategist Prashant Kishor and his I-PAC or Indian Political Action Committee who supervised the three-dimensional projection programme for Modi besides programmes like Run for Unity, Chai Pe Charcha (or Discussions Over Tea), Manthan (or Churning) and Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) that roped in management graduates to garner support for Modi at large gatherings. Having worked across the political spectrum and opportunistically switched affiliation to those who backed (and paid) him, 41-year-old Kishor is currently the second-in-command in Janata Dal (United) headed by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.