Election spotlight turns on behind-the-scenes players

Election spotlight turns on behind-the-scenes players
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First Published: Thu, Mar 19 2009. 10 02 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Mar 19 2009. 10 02 PM IST
New Delhi: With less than a month to go for the general election, a group of people are working hard, collecting data in the offices of a few national parties in New Delhi.
These are people holding doctorate and master’s degrees and their job is to provide a statistical basis to bolster the emotive content of their leaders’ speeches. One such is Prasenjit Bose, a doctorate in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, who is the convener of the research cell at the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM.
At a time when several politicians value research and a fact-based approach to issues as opposed to the appeal of old, emotive slogans such as roti, kapda aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter), research wings and even freelance researchers who work for politicians are increasingly gaining in relevance.
“That is true. Their effort can complement that of the leaders. There is perhaps more focus now on such research teams than before,” said a senior CPM leader who didn’t want to be identified.
Bose, like his counterparts in the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and the Congress party, which employs freelancers, are busy doing a lot of things—finding data on employment or explaining the financial meltdown in the US or tracking their candidates’ chances of winning.
National polls start on 16 April and end on 13 May.
In the research cells of both the CPM and BJP, the effort is in full swing to counter several of the government’s claims of achievements.
The CPM has an official research cell with a staff of three. It helps the party coordinate its response to government programmes as well as question its claim of 9% economic growth.
Says Bose: “Nine per cent growth is cited. There is no way for us to question that because we do not have the data (only the government has). But it is also true that at no point in time has the inequality grown more sharply than now.”
The BJP uses a more decentralized system for its research. The party has created a number of cells, such as the economic affairs cell, which provides data and policy inputs on macroeconomic matters, and the trade and industries cell.
Jagdish Shettigar, one of the BJP’s key economic strategists, says the economic affairs cell most often helps in formulating the party’s response to “fast-breaking events”. However, its relevance is increasing in the run-up to the election.
“Whenever they (BJP leaders) need to explain the details of the financial meltdown and how the government can intervene, they come to us. I had provided some inputs for the (BJP) president’s (Rajnath Singh’s) speech in Pune,” Shettigar said.
The BJP is also relying on what it calls “winnability surveys” to decide on whom to field as candidates in the elections.
“Six months ago, the selection (of candidates) would have been (done by) the local party office. Now, they can only suggest a panel of names. The final names are selected based on market research,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a psephologist and member of the party’s national executive.
The Congress, however, does not have an official research wing that leaders rely on, said a Congress leader who didn’t want to be identified. “From time to time we get inputs from private sources,” he said. “When you don’t have the facts, you resort to statistics. When they (parties in power) come to that situation, we know they are on a sticky wicket.”
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First Published: Thu, Mar 19 2009. 10 02 PM IST