Updated on: Monday, August 02, 2021, 01:00 AM IST

Elections are not about data but about controlling narratives, writes Manish Sharma

In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee created the narrative that if BJP were to rule Bengal, violence would be commonplace and women would not be safe, that Jai Shri Ram was a threat to Joy Maa Durga. The women came out and created a landslide in her favour

Elections across the world have become very technology-driven, there is data collected for every possible permutation and combination of voters and their voting preferences. You can have voting preference data by gender, by age group, by ethnic groups, by location, by dwelling size. There are many organisations that are collecting such data on a regular basis across the world and providing it to leaders. These days, data is supposed to be the panacea for winning the elections. Relying and making strategies based on this data seems like an easy way to win elections. Many armchair politicians are now building war rooms and social media warriors to ride on this data to craft strategies and cruise to poll triumph.

They are losing.

Elections are not about data, they are about controlling the narrative. If one controls the narrative closest to one’s persona, one wins and that is the end of story. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was on a weak wicket, her proteges and advisers were leaving the party and her strategist was telling her not to be combative and desist from attacking the Modi-Shah duo.

Streetfighter credentials

Now, if Mamatadi is anything, she is a warrior, a belligerent street fighter - that is who she is. This is her persona, people like her for that; as long as she keeps fighting and being seen as a warrior who is up against the world, she will keep winning. Staged or otherwise, the attack on her gave her the opening she was looking for, the chance to play victim — a woman affronted by the Modi-Shah duo.

Up went the plaster, out came the wheelchair and she donned the role that she has perfected over the years — a victim. She created the narrative that if BJP were to rule Bengal, violence would be commonplace and women would not be safe, Jai Shri Ram was a threat to Joy Maa Durga. The women came out and created a landslide in her favour. One can go into the details, assembly by assembly, ward by ward and do all the analysis one wants, but it will be of no use.

She was the government and yet, she portrayed herself as the opposition, the narrative was hers and no one else had the answer to that. The interesting thing to note is that the ‘hawa’ can change almost overnight if you are able to create a strong narrative. With social media, spreading the narrative can be done at lightning speed. It’s never too late in the day to do this.

Kerala story

In Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan controlled the narrative —we (not I) know how to govern. When the whole of India was reeling under the corona second wave and people were scrambling for beds and oxygen and plasma, the Kerala government had call centres working round the clock, helping people deal with the issue of finding beds, medicine and oxygen. Even if lives were being lost, people did not feel orphaned, abandoned.

Governance was the narrative and the opposition had no leadership, no comeback, no nothing. It was almost as if the opposition didn’t know what to say, what to attack and what to claim! An uncharismatic person won with a 2/3rds majority and created history, becoming the first chief minister of Kerala in more than 40 years to not lose. It is rare in India that governance becomes a narrative. In Kerala that happened.

DMK got it

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling dispensation was clueless, did not believe that their administration was liked, or the fact that people liked their governance. They gave up without creating a narrative. This lack of narrative from the AIADMK gave space to the DMK to win the election without creating a narrative of their own. They rode to victory on the very flimsy grounds of not being affiliated to the BJP.

Had the AIADMK worked hard on creating a narrative – that though having been in power for 10 years and despite not having their charismatic leader J Jayalalithaa in their midst anymore, they knew how to run the administration and make the lives of people better, they would have won the election. The voters saw them as efficient in governance even if their leaders were uncharismatic and low-key, but they erred in not creating a narrative and paid the price for it. This is bolstered by the fact that they beat every pollster by winning more than double the seats the most optimistic had predicted for them.

Will Congress pick up the cue?

A narrative usually has to be combined with some great ground-level organisation working to take the message to the people in every nook and corner of the state and country. However, sometimes, a strong narrative can overcome the deficiency of not having a grassroots level organisation working overtime to ensure that the party wins.

This election should serve as a reminder to the Congress party run by the Gandhi siblings and the matriarch that the time has come to start creating a narrative that can help them in winning elections. Opposing the government is not enough, you have to create your own story and sell that story. So far, they have failed.

The writer is an IIT-BHU graduate, technology and social media entrepreneur

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Published on: Monday, August 02, 2021, 02:30 AM IST