//Psephology strong-arms BJP plan

Psephology strong-arms BJP plan

New Delhi, March 9: The way to be ‘decisive’ is to decide by survey, the BJP seems to ‘strongly’ believe. The party, which has hired advertising agencies Frank Simoes and Utopia to run its poll campaign in the media, has had its main slogan worked out. It goes: ‘Majboot neta, nirnayak sarkar (strong leader, decisive government).’

The theme was chosen on the basis of a survey that suggested that the majority of Indians craved for a strong leader and a decisive government. The BJP decided that L.K. Advani symbolised strong leadership better than Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

The campaign kicks off on TV channels, FM radio and newspaper pages from March 16.

An ad blitz over the Internet and mobile phones is also in the pipeline despite some Sangh parivar lobbies’ criticism of the hi-tech SMS and phone campaign organised by the late Pramod Mahajan before the 2004 elections.

The BJP had hired Utopia, a creative agency, during last November’s Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections too. Among the accomplishments of Frank Simoes is the Only Vimal campaign.

The method of choosing the BJP slogan’s theme, however, should be no surprise. Apart from its effective use of technology, the party has taken the lead in using psephology — the study of poll trends — to manage its electoral efforts, from candidate selection to constituency-wise micro-management.

Although many parties tap pollsters to get a rough idea of ground realities, the BJP now attaches greater importance to psephology inputs than to political analysis even though, in public, it continues to ridicule surveys and opinion polls.

The party’s stress on issues like the economic downturn and internal security too was dictated by survey results.

The BJP’s attachment to psephology was strengthened during the Madhya Pradesh polls when it had initially planned to centre its campaign on terrorism and ideological issues.

However, it went the whole hog on Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s personal appeal solely on the strength of a survey’s findings. The election results so impressed the leadership that it drafted psephologist G.V.L. Narasimha Rao into the BJP national council.

Rao is now integral to the BJP’s decision-making. Sources say the leadership is getting field assessments from all the important constituencies before selecting candidates.

For instance, the BJP considered many candidates, from editors to bureaucrats, for the prestigious New Delhi seat but surveys suggested that none of them would win. The pollster has now suggested actress Hema Malini as the only potential winner from the seat.

Party sources say Hema might get Advani’s nod despite the strong claims of senior leader Vijay Goel who wants to shift from Chandni Chowk.

Political compulsions, however, at times do force the BJP to ignore the field data. For instance, Lalji Tandon has been nominated from Lucknow disregarding a survey’s findings. Tandon is close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The devotion to numerical assessment rather than political analysis, some BJP leaders feel, has weakened the party’s political management skills. They cite how the leadership had been in the dark while Naveen Patnaik was sewing up his alternative plans to dump the BJP.

The pollsters couldn’t predict it.

SANJAY K. JHA, The Telegraph, Mar 10. 2009