Why Cambridge Analytica game plan will not work for Congress in India

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First Published 24, Jan 2019, 5:40 PM IST
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Why Cambridge Analytica game plan will not work for Congress in India
Highlights

Cambridge Analytica uses pseudo-scientific methods such as the alleged mining of personal data without permission to influence voter and election behavior. In India, that means exploiting caste and religious fissures

The Congress, under the Nehru-Gandhis, likes to import its ideas. Let us remember that in the past, for Rajiv Gandhi’s post-Bofors scandal campaign that saw him out of power, it has also used MNC advertising agencies to think things up for it.

The MNC advertising agencies then sold the late Rajiv Gandhi a campaign that depicted the opposition as scorpions and snakes in full-page advertisements in all the leading dailies. It backfired, and the negative campaign did not work.

But this time around, Rahul Gandhi and family went in for a fully-imported and scripted campaign on a turn-key basis, with several of the hallmarks of political public relations, such as frequent repetition of the key messages, built into it.

So much so, that it tended to ignore all developments on the ground to the contrary, and ploughed on relentlessly, with Rahul Gandhi himself as the chief spear and Manchurian candidate. This created an unreal miasma around the Congress president, which was a real problem. It has him shouting out a crazy and theatrical invective, but the script was unrelenting, written for a prefabricated campaign. It had allowed for no modifications.

In the original presentation that offered hosannas in advance to the real election outcome, and had the Gandhi parivar mesmerised, Cambridge Analytica, UK branch, and senior hand-holder Sam Pitroda of Chicago, (yes, also of Rajiv Gandhi-era CDoT fame) were anointed. Together, they have cooked up a recipe for the 2019 general election campaign that included some hilarious image-building forays for Rahul from middling perches abroad.

The objectives were two-pronged – to elevate the stature of an erstwhile halting and inarticulate Rahul, elevated now as the Congress president, and make it appear as if he was a serious contender for the Prime Minister’s chair. This was indeed partially achieved. Rahul began to speak with fire and conviction from his prepared lines, and pitted himself relentlessly and almost exclusively against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The next task for Cambridge Analytica was to vitiate the atmosphere so much that it appears to the voting public that the incumbent government is corrupt, inept, communal, and a danger to the very survival of democracy itself.

Cambridge Analytica uses pseudo-scientific methods such as the alleged mining of personal data without permission to influence voter and election behavior. In India, that means exploiting caste and religious fissures. They have reportedly done this type of thing successfully in a more homogenised America and Britain, but are also facing various legal consequences for invasions of privacy and other illegal acts.

In India, they sold an entire game plan to an impressed Rahul and his family consisting of his mother, the chairperson of the party, and his sister recently named a general secretary of the Congress for Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The troika is complete now and into the rough and tumble of electoral politics for whatever it may yield.

The plan had all the ingredients of mayhem, which, if properly executed, would surely have brought down the present government and installed a coalition made up of Congress and elements of the like-minded regional Opposition parties.

That Cambridge Analytica underestimated India is understandable, because even the Gandhis, their clients, who like to believe they know the Indian mind, do think it is easy too manipulate.

The campaign, alas, has proved to be an unmitigated disaster as per the grand old party’s own internal assessment and just three months before the general elections.

The forays involving outsourced arson and rioting via ambitious young caste leaders got exposed. The attempt to paint the Prime Minister as corrupt via a high decibel attempt at calumny around the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France refused to gain traction. Instead, the involvement of the Gandhis in lobbying against the Rafale aircraft on behalf of the Eurofighter started appearing in the news. And so did their involvement as possible bribe-takers in a number of other defence and civilian contracts. The scoffing about favourable economic statistics also didn’t stick. The backing of radical elements has had the public feeling uneasy.

Even the winning of three Hindi heartland states recently has not convinced the Congress that it is on a winning streak after all. The ghosts from the 1984 Sikh massacre have also come back to haunt the Congress. The National Herald criminal investigation is also refusing to go away.

Ever since the main planks of the Cambridge Analytica game plan imploded, recent and subsequent developments seem to be off-script. Both the planning and execution has reverted to the party elders here in India. They are being orchestrated in a jerky manner as if filmed on a hand-held device, is the price of hurried improvisation.

Such events include an attempt to malign the Election Commission via an event casting bizarre aspersions on the EVM from London - shepherded by Kapil Sibal, senior counsel and Congress stalwart. No sooner than it was said at the event that the EVMs were hacked in the 2014 general elections, the Congress realised it was in power at the time, and dropped the follow-up actions on the initiative!

And the latest is the plunge taken by Priyanka Gandhi into Eastern Uttar Pradesh politics. This is designed to not only oust Yogi Adityanath from the chief minister’s chair but show the SP-BSP alliance sans Congress how it is really done. That it tacitly admits the leadership of Rahul is floundering, with important prospective allies refusing to join hands with him or the Congress, is to most observers ill-timed. Besides, will Priyanka do much better than her brother?

It is a gamble worth taking, thinks Rahul, because the Congress is desperate. A number of their top leaders and their relatives are likely to go to jail, including the Gandhis, Robert Vadra, and the Chidambarams, if Narendra Modi and the BJP is not ousted.

However, this is not very likely, looking beyond the prospects of the Congress alone in the coming elections. A huge flaw is the lack of a real agenda beyond turfing out Modi, and the difficulty in believing that any such coalition can provide a stable government.  

That the Cambridge Analytica would fail in the Indian context was a foregone conclusion for many observers. This is, after all, a sub-continent, and the campaign to malign the Prime Minister on Rafale was altogether too simplistic. Particularly, given that the Congress family is known to be supremely corrupt itself. As the accusers, this is too ironic to be missed. And conversely, the target is a totally incorruptible prime minister.

Actually, the political strategists and PR firm, with its methodical occidental thinking are probably not capable of keeping up with the subtle workings of desi minds. That the recent ongoing indicate a state of sheer panic in the Congress camp, is, of course, the price of the expensive debacle. It seems like surrender without firing the first shot of the battle.

This even as we get ready to see the first American made Howitzer and others, made in India with South Korean collaboration by Larsen and Tourbo. The bribery-tainted Bofors guns have been replaced, but not the dramatis personae of that scam ridden acquisition from three decades ago. But truly, not a single shot has been fired. The main battles are yet to begin. The author of The Art of War would have approved.

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