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Congress had chin up in Telangana, thanks to this election strategist

| Updated: December 5, 2023 17:09

He’s indifferent to attention. Even search engines and media personnel didn’t have much to say about him until recently. This man, Sunil Kanugolu, an election strategist, would rather remain away from the spotlight. For the unversed, he’s credited with Congress’s face-saving win in the assembly elections in Telangana.

The low-key election strategist is from Bellary, though he was raised in Chennai. Before making a mark as an election strategist, he was employed by the management consulting firm McKinsey in the United States.

The 41-year-old was a late entrant in Congress’s think-tank, joining the party towards the fall of 2022. Congress president Sonia Gandhi created a task force for the Lok Sabha elections and the assembly polls, trusting Kanugolu’s acumen and experience to do the job.

Media reports claim that the party gave him a free hand to chalk out a plan for the campaign in Telangana. 

Congress’s bid to secure its position in Telangana included nullifying BJP’s impact as a third player. Reports added that the strategy included convincing YS Sharmila, the founder and president of the YSR Telangana Party, to not field its own candidates, which would have worked against the Congress.

The beleaguered Congress expected Kanugolu to steer its aggressive state leaders, oversee multiple yatras and assist in the party’s public outreach, with the Gandhis at the narrative’s core. 

That Sonia Gandhi had a pivotal role in the creation of Telangana was meant to be the underlying thread of the piece. It must be mentioned that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra had passed through Telangana, giving the party’s campaign in the state a massive fillip. Kanugolu, claim reports, had a key role in planning Rahul’s cross-country yatra.

Understandably, Kanugolu became Rahul Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant, even though state leaders introduced him to the former Congress chief only months ago. Congress gave Kanugolu a free hand, although he didn’t have voice in the party’s campaign strategy in other states. 

Kanugolu had joined the Congress just before the party started talking to prominent election strategist-turned-political activist Prashant Kishor about his ideas for reorganising the Congress and whether or not to accept him as a member. It helped that Kanugolu and Kishor had worked together in the past. He was with Kishor as part of the Citizens for Accountable Governance that had planned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

Interestingly, he also collaborated with the DMK for the 2016 assembly elections. In the same year, he also established the Association of Billion Minds, a strategy group that aimed to improve the BJP’s public relations. He collaborated with the BJP on the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. To assist with its polling campaign for the assembly elections, the AIADMK hired him in 2021.

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