Rahul Gandhi appears to have borrowed a leaf out of Akhilesh Yadav's election strategy handbook, as the Congress president has picked Harvard professor Steve Jarding to be his 2019 Lok Sabha election strategist.
Jarding has had an almost 4-decade-long run in managing political campaigns, mostly in various elections for US Democratic party candidates, but his sole election experience in India, with the Samajwadi party in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, didn't quite deliver the requisite end result.
It was the first time that the SP had looked abroad for professional help, and as per what was said then, Jarding and his team played a major role. The Harvard professor had been brought on board via Adwait Singh, a former student of his, who arranged a meeting with the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Jarding was reportedly very impressed with Akhilesh Yadav for his potential as a public servant and his desire to improve.
He formed a team that focused on bringing best practices to the campaign, particularly in the rural areas, and while they would not be the ones directly concerned with implementation, they claimed, at one point in the run-up to the election, to be able to reach a very vast portion of the population of the state.
Messaging and media training was the area where Jarding's team specialised, operating under the presumption that Akhilesh's communication was reaching the urban areas but Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hugely popular with the vast rural demographic of India's most populous state.
Jarding's team broke constituencies down to poll-booth granularity, quantitatively and qualitatively assessing them, and also worked on voter targeting and communication strategies that are a standard abroad. They regularly communicated with Akhilesh Yadav and advised him when he sought their help.
Via the party's on-ground cadre, Jarding's team communicated information about the Akhilesh government's schemes in rural areas. While they didn't get into ticket distribution, they did reportedly provide inputs for what kind of candidate would be required and also discussed changing Akhilesh's election symbol from the Samajwadi Party's iconic cycle to a motorcycle -- to show progress.
However, Jarding's involvement wasn't without controversy. A mail, which Jarding later called fake, was leaked where he appeared to be proposing a split between Akhilesh Yadav and other members of the clan, in an effort to disassociate the then Chief Minister from any non-development-related image. The feud did, in fact, end up taking place and continues to this day with Akhilesh's uncle Shivpal founding the Samajwadi Secular Morcha which he says will contest all 80 UP seats in the Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha polls.
The result, however, left a lot to be desired. Not only did Akhilesh Yadav fail to get re-elected, but his party was also severely diminished in the 403-member assembly, falling to just 54 seats from 224, while the BJP, with the Prime Minister as the face of the campaign, secured a mammoth 325 seats in comparison to just 47 five years earlier.
Now, in his latest charge, Jarding has been entrusted with reversing the Congress' fortunes following the 2014 Lok Sabha election debacle which saw the party suffering a similar humbling to Akhilesh Yadav in 2017.
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