In June 2018, Shivam Shankar Singh, a former data analyst with the Bharatiya Janata Party, wrote a post on the online blogging platform Medium, titled “Why I am resigning from BJP.” In it, he said he took the decision to leave the party as “the negatives of this Narendra Modi and Amit Shah government now outweigh the positives for me.”
Singh worked for the BJP ahead of the assembly elections in Manipur and Tripura, held in 2017 and 2018 respectively. He used data to help chalk out election strategies and target voter-groups through social media. During this time, he wrote, he noticed that the BJP was “spreading some specific messages with incredibly effective propaganda.” He also noticed drastic differences between what the party promised and what it was delivering. Singh began to grow disillusioned with the party. He wrote in his post that the BJP was “pushing the national discourse in a dark corner.”
Singh is now working with the mahagathbandhan, a grand coalition of political parties in Bihar, which opposes the BJP. Earlier this month, Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, met him in Delhi. Singh detailed how the BJP used technology to fuel casteist and communal strife to win elections. An edited excerpt from the conversation is reproduced below.
When I first campaigned for the BJP in 2013, there was a narrative about corruption in the country as the 2G, Coalgate, Commonwealth scams had just come to light. Modi presented himself as a great administrator, and at that time, that is what the country was looking for. There was a group set up by the election strategist Prashant Kishore, called Citizens for Accountable Governance. Young professionals from technology and consultancy services, such as KPMG and Ernst & Young, had also left their jobs and joined the CAG to work for Modi’s campaign.
That is the background in which I joined the BJP. I worked for them informally—wrote a few articles and social media posts. The BJP’s data set-up was very strong in 2014. But the structure soon collapsed because the party felt that they had won the election because of Modi. The party’s opinion was that data was not needed. Then something major happened—in 2015, it lost the assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. The prime minister went to Bihar and said at a rally, “Have you got electricity? Have you got roads?” He expected people to say no, but the crowd said, “Yes!” Even a basic survey would have told you to not raise this issue. The BJP ran blind and lost miserably. This is when they started to build their data structure again. By 2016, they became strong again.
That year, I joined Kishor’s political advocacy group, the Indian Political Action Committee, and worked in Punjab for for a few months. [For the then upcoming Punjab legislative assembly election, the IPAC was campaigning for the Congress.]The perception was that the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh, who was called a “Maharaja,” is lazy and does not work too hard. The Congress’s biggest weakness has been that their cadre does not exist in most places and where it does, it does not work because they are not emotionally driven.