The Congress party’s initial post-mortem analysis of its Lok Sabha election performance has pinned a share of the blame on purportedly faulty inputs from the newly-constituted data analytics department.
The department played a key role in the direction and delivery of the 2019 poll campaign at multiple levels — focus on the Rafale jets deal as a sign of alleged corruption by the senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership; the timing of the Nyay income guarantee scheme as a medium to woo the economically weaker sections; and even the selection of candidates in some states — as the data provided by the unit was taken as an important guiding factor.
According to the experts, the Congress leadership relied too heavily on the numbers that were being generated and the inferences drawn from them. So much so, that, as time passed and the elections drew closer, the findings of the unit started being treated as an Oracle by the party’s top leadership.
“The data and outreach of the unit’s flagship Shakti platform started being used to make crucial decisions –issues to be highlighted, selection of candidates, even electoral tie-ups. Basically Shakti should have been an opinion-gathering tool, not the decision-making tool that it became,” said one leader who asked not to be named.
“Eventually, in the light of what the data analytics team was telling us, the final tally of 52 for the Congress and 303 for the BJP came as a complete shock,” said another leader.
“We were being told it would be a far more even split; the BJP would halve its 2014 tally of 282 and the Congress would treble its 2014 tally of 44.”
The BJP raised its 2014 tally of 282 to 303 and the Congress ended with 52 seats.
It is in the wake of this large dichotomy between projection and reality that a significant portion of the early blame for the Congress debacle is falling on the department, which was among the first policy initiatives of Rahul Gandhi as the party president.
On February 5, 2018, less than two months after taking over, Gandhi tweeted: “Excited to announce a ‘Data Analytics’ dept under the leadership of Praveen Chakravarty to effectively use ‘Big Data’.” Rahul Gandhi later described the initiative as a “much-needed MRI for the party”.
Chakravarty was also one of the main architects of Nyay, the minimum income guarantee scheme promised by the Congress in the 2019 elections. In an interview with India Today, he said the “Congress Data Analytics Cell worked day and night for four months on the idea to give it [Nyay] a shape.”
While the caveat that data was not meant to be the sole determinant in making political decisions might help the data analytics department and its head in fighting attempts within the party to put the blame for the disastrous electoral performance at its doorstep, it will not be enough for it to regain its pre-2019 stature. After all, Chakravarty and his department erred in providing even the mandated input in the Congress’s electoral strategy.