If one has to look at Congress’ electoral debacles, the incessant emphasis on NYAY and Rafale deal instantly comes to mind. However, if one delves deeper into the causes to gauge the driving force behind the campaign and its topic selections, the ‘Shakti’ project is highlighted. Headed by Praveen Chakravarthy, the chairman the AICC Data Analytics Department, the project was meant to connect the ground level party workers with the leaders. However, the mammoth data gathering and analysis exercise was anything but that and were fraught with errors. What was supposed to be the bedrock of Congress’ campaign eventually became one of the reasons for its defeat.
In the last few days, several reasons for this have come out. For starters, the short sightedness of the man who was heading it is being viewed as one of the main reasons for the massive failure. Praveen Chakravarthy, who was handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to head the project, has proved to be extremely clueless and oblivious in the run-up to the elections. Barely 2 months before the elections, he had authored an opinion piece on ‘The Print’, wherein he had referred BJP’s 2014 monumental victory as a ‘Black Swan event’. The term ‘Black Swan’ has been used to characterize an extreme one-off event which occurs rarely. To substantiate this claim, Chakravarthy had stated that the 2019 elections would see the vote share’s “reversion to normality”; meaning that a Congress government at the centre is the ‘normal’. Calling BJP’ victory a “mathematical abnormality”, Chakravarthy said that “BJP is losing its dominance in its core states has not shown any signs of improving its tally in its traditionally weak large states”. In the list of states demonstrating such an example, Chakravarthy mentioned West Bengal, whose electoral outcome everyone is well aware of. All in all, Praveen Chakravarthy felt that a BJP victory cannot be repeated. This aptly shows how far removed from reality the Congress leader was who was supposed to gauge the mood of the nation. With the head displaying such witlessness, the project was bound to fail from the start.
The 2nd and more crucial problem was the fake data involved in the project. This made the findings unreliable and the conclusions derived from it led to a disastrous campaign. According to an internal note written by a general secretary in the Congress party, accessed by Huffington Post, “Between 75-80% of Shakti registrations are bogus in each state.” A glaring example of this is the Telangana Assembly election, when Congress supposedly had 14,728 registered Congress “workers”. However, the candidate from TJS, Congress’ ally in the state received only 17,536 votes, which would have been unlikely had the Congress actually had 14,728 workers.
Essentially, what Congress saw was a huge database of people masquerading as Congress workers. According to a Congress worker from Telangana, “The data analytics department says that these guys are your ground force. This is misleading. They are not. They are just random people who are receiving messages from the Congress.” Since Congress’ entire campaign was based on this “data-driven” approach to elections, and the data was extremely skewed, the “insights” derived from the data has been bogus; which is visible in the election result.
One of the biggest examples of Project Shakti’s failures was perhaps the Rafale issue. Relying on Shakti’s data, Praveen Chakravarthy and Rahul Gandhi kept on insisting that Rafale case is finding an audience and people are relating to it. Thus, thinking it mattered, Rahul Gandhi focused his entire campaign on Rafale. Unsurprisingly, since the data had been bogus from the beginning, the findings were skewed. The data used by Project Shakti to reach the conclusion that Rafale deal mattered to the people was based on extremely flawed surveys. According to an internal note by a party worker, “These surveys use a sample of 150-200 people per Lok Sabha constituency, which is extremely unreliable and unscientific.” HuffPost India “independently confirmed that the sample sizes in several surveys were indeed very small.” Moreover, according to a pre-poll survey, a majority of the population didn’t think Rafale deal would be an issue for the elections. Rahul Gandhi thus, by focusing his entire campaign on the Rafale deal, put too much faith on unreliable data which had disastrous electoral ramifications.
Essentially, Project Shakti underlines the weaknesses of Congress. The party workers were instructed to rope in as many workers into the Congress fold, and as an encouragement, the party offered a photo with Rahul Gandhi to the worker who brought in the maximum number of workers. According to a functionary, the District presidents had a target of 5,000 enrolments each, “they had no choice…they had to save their post.” The procedure of enrolling the party workers was quite simple and all that had to be done was sending an SMS of the voter ID number to the party via a mobile phone. With this, the party workers set out to send SMSs using any common person’s mobile phone; whether they wanted to be a Congress party worker or were even aware of the situation; was another story. Moreover, there was extreme pressure from the party leaders to collect data at the booth level, which led to false data. To top it off, the party had no way of verifying the data collected so the data remained skewed.
According to Congress field workers, quoted by Huffington Post, “around 5 to 10% of those on the Shakti platform were likely to be ‘genuine’ Congress workers”. Therefore such was the extent of infiltration that Senior Congress officials believed that even BJP sympathizers and its workers could have been registered through Shakti.
This shows the cluelessness of the top leadership in the party and how disorganized the party structure was. The lower leadership in the party was just keen on gaining favours from the top leadership and to ensure that, they had used every possible means to abide by the instructions. They did not want to collect genuine data but rather any data just so the party expectations are fulfilled. As a result, Congress certainly got the numbers through force and befooling people. However, the data they produced had been just that- Unreliable and deceptive. Since the workers roped in and the data collected through Project Shakti had been skewed from the start, using its findings in the election campaign had been an imbecile move. The lack of connect of the top leadership of Congress party ensured that the veracity of the data collected by Project Shakti was not vetted resulting in wrong conclusions. This essentially reflects everything that is wrong in the party structure. At the end of it, the over-reliance on project Shakti majorly contributed to the party’s electoral debacle.