This CAG may Pitch for Policy, not Paralysis
Will Citizens for Accountable Governance be disbanded or are its members gearing up to play a more powerful role?
In the past nine months, nearly 200 young Indian professionals from top schools and companies have diligently carried out Narendra’s Modi’s marketing and advertising campaign — the chai pe charcha discussions, 3D rallies, marathons, conclaves and social media programmes — to fulfill the task given to them: “Take Modi to the dark zones of the country, where the party and the man himself are unknown.” These youngsters quit comfortable banking and consultancy jobs to be part of Citizens for Accountable Governance, set up by Prashant Kishor, a 36-year-old former UN health specialist who became one of Modi’s trusted strategists. Their work played a big role in making Modi popular. But with the elections over, what will this band of youngsters do? Will the group be disbanded or are its members gearing up to play an even more powerful role, assuming that the exit poll tally is borne out and Modi becomes the next prime minister at the head of a BJP-led NDA government?
A two-day meeting in Gandhinagar of senior BJP leaders with this team that began on Wednesday is set to answer these questions. “The deliberations are on about the future of the group. We are looking at what options the party has to give us. We would like to contribute to nation building even after the government is formed,” said Rishi Raj Singh, a IIT-Kanpur alumnus and part of CAG. Of the 200, over 120 have expressed a desire to continue working in the sociopolitical space and are hoping, if the BJP forms the government, that the party will recognise their contribution.
Many of the professionals have been told that they would get to work with MPs, in advisory bodies to the Cabinet or as part of a think-tank on financial matters that an NDA government would set up. “Even Mr Modi knows that if the party achieves good results in states where the BJP was not strong, it is not because of his party work, but because we put together strategies, operated on strict deadlines of reaching out to people, deployed technology, worked on background research on which areas could be tapped, and more importantly, issued ground reports every day. The party would not let go of us,” said one CAG member, an IIM alumnus, who was working as an investment banker in Europe before this. Led by alumni of foreign universities or the IITs and IIMs who took sabbaticals or resigned from companies such as JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group, CAG took Modi’s campaign to new heights in terms of analysis, logistics, planning and communications, evoking comparisons to the back room that helped send Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. Among its tasks was the recruitment of thousands of supporters, researching ideas for Modi’s speeches, giving him feedback, deploying observers at polling booths, sending 400 video vans to the villages and sending daily ground reports to state party heads. “We came together to work for Modi even before he was declared the PM candidate. We as a group want accountable and stable governance and we realise that doesn’t end with him becoming the PM. There is much more to do,” said the CAG member. There are some apprehensions that the group could be disbanded. Many agree that the BJP is already swamped by claimants to various positions and may not be keen on offering them any work. The fact they got to play a big role in the campaign is largely because of Modi himself.
“Initially, we found it difficult to work with senior BJP leaders, especially because the traditional campaign was so unorganised. It was Mr Modi’s personal interest in our group that made our campaign successful,” said an IIT-Bombay alumnus and a financial consultant, who didn’t want to be identified. “Earlier, Modiji would meet us once in a month, but once he saw our proposal for taking his 3D image to the villages, he was ecstatic. He saw it a number of times, even sitting in one of the back rows, and after that, gave us a free hand, meeting us every week, taking our ideas forward. In a way, he saw the CAG as reflective of his futuristic thinking,” he added. Sources in the party say it is thinking of setting up a consultancy with these professionals, as Modi thinks well of CAG’s members. Some of them have been told that possible roles in policymaking and last-mile delivery are being considered seriously. “Considering they come from various backgrounds such as law, media, management, software technology and bio-sciences, they may also be roped in as consultants for individual projects such as MGNREGA or even the upcoming Ganga project,” said a party member. However, many CAG members believe it is best for the group to work with the government and not as part of it. “Providing consulting services to the new government on how to implement new policies on the ground will be challenging and exciting. That is something many of us would look forward to,” said Ashwini Anand, a Standford University alumnus and founding member of CAG.