Harvard professor Steve Jarding is likely to bring an emotional element to Rahul Gandhi and the Congress' 2019 election campaign, as per his former student Rajat Sethi, but the bigger question is 'should he be allowed to?'
As per Sethi, who is a public policy graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School where Jarding has been a professor since 2004, Jarding, as recently as 2016 and for a long time before that, was adamant that any Russian interference in US elections would constitute a threat, and now, he's about to do something along similar lines in India. This, Sethi describes as "the fallacy in Jarding's argument."
Sethi goes on to elaborate on how contracting a foreign entity to work so closely on a sacrosanct process like the elections would be regarded with extreme apprehension anywhere else. Citing the UK as an example, he spoke about how the Conservative party wouldn't allow people into their offices and data centres when he'd gone visiting.
"It will involve sharing demographic data and use of sensitive data in the campaign -- secrets that should remain within the bounds of the country", the India Foundation fellow and advisor to the Manipur CM said, adding, "Any political party would have to pay him, thereby breaching the moral line where you are seeking foreign assistance to uproot an established government. It's tantamount to sedition."
"What if Jarding collaborates with the CIA to damage India's interests?", Sethi leaves the question hanging, later going on to talk about how a similar controversy had just stopped short of exploding when Jarding's services were employed by Akhilesh Yadav before the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.
In terms of Steve Jarding's methods, Rajat Sethi harkens back to his teachings, offering that "He's not an analytical person, it's a communications course".
"His class had people from many countries and was fairly popular. The moot point is that he tries to pitch elements that are agnostic to the campaign", Sethi recalled, giving an insight into what the Congress party could expect -- something that is also in consonance with some of the methods employed by Jarding's team and their focus on applying best practices in Uttar Pradesh.
Coming to the finer points of the 'emotional elements' that Jarding is likely to bring, Sethi begins to list out: "how to emotionally give a nudge to people, focus on how US presidents run elections with their families, making campaign videos and testing them out in focus groups."
On how Jarding could help Rahul Gandhi specifically, he says, "He always talks about what you should say. What word you should use -- that's what his core competence is... rehearsing."
Two specific aspects of Jarding's strategy that India could witness first hand may include 'talking about the pain one's gone through since childhood', and also a communication paradigm that involves 'attacking the messenger, not the message', which Jarding allegedly recommends.
Jarding's introduction and its significance as Rajat Sethi put it could have a big influence as India heads towards Lok Sabha elections. "He's doing his job", Sethi makes clear, before concluding, "It's up to us to decide whether he should do it here or not." For now, it's up to Rahul Gandhi to decide, and the Congress president appears to have given Jarding the go-ahead.
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