Bengaluru: Sunil Kanugolu, a political strategist for the Congress party, who had been pivotal in the party’s election campaigns, has now been elevated to the role of Chief Advisor to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
This cabinet-rank position, officially announced on May 31, is a nod to the strategist’s significant contributions to the party’s recent victories.
Kanugolu, a Telugu speaking native of Ballari in Karnataka, has spent a significant part of his life in Chennai before completing his postgraduate degree from New York University. He now resides in Bengaluru, where he has been carving out a successful career as a political consultant over the past decade.
From Modi’s campaign to Congress’s victory
Kanugolu’s journey in political strategy began with him co-founding the Association of Brilliant Minds (ABM), an organisation that pioneered relentless election strategies for the Bharatiya Janata Party. He was part of Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a group brought together by renowned poll strategist, Prashant Kishor, to propel Narendra Modi’s prime-ministerial campaign in 2014.
Because his association with Modi predates the formation of CAG, Kanugolu’s shift from the position as an architect of the BJP’s poll strategies to joining Congress in 2022 was surprising to many in the political sphere – especially after Prashant Kishor’s unsuccessful attempt at working with the Congress.
Despite his roots in BJP’s strategy teams, his ingenuity shone through in the Congress’s poll campaign in Karnataka, with many of his ideas mirroring strategies that CAG and ABM had employed for the BJP’s campaigns earlier.
Kanugolu’s association with the Congress party began in 2022 when he was hired as their key poll strategist. AICC president Sonia Gandhi soon included him as a member of the party’s 2024 Lok Sabha polls task force. His strategic input and innovative ideas were crucial in securing the Congress’ victory in the recent Karnataka assembly elections, marking his first independent triumph in a major assembly poll.
Furthermore, Kanugolu’s role was central in organising the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Rahul Gandhi. This 4,080-kilometre journey, spanning 14 states, began on September 7, 2022, concluding on January 30, 2023. This yatra, aimed at connecting with people from all walks of life, significantly boosted the Congress’ outreach.
Key achievements and milestones
Before his appointment as the chief advisor, Kanugolu played a vital role in securing a record 135 assembly seats for Congress in the 2023 Karnataka polls. He led Congress’s in-house election strategy team, INClusive Minds, and founded the strategy and consultancy firm, MindShare Analytics.
His innovative strategies, such as the ‘PayCM’ and ‘40% sarkara‘ campaigns, successfully highlighted corruption allegations against the incumbent CM Bommai. His work, particularly in conducting over five surveys in the run-up to the elections, helped Congress identify potential weak points and allowed the party to course-correct in a timely manner.
Beyond Karnataka, Sunil Kanugolu has worked on election campaigns in various other states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Telangana. He also participated in strategising for Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin’s ‘Namakku Naame’ (‘we, for ourselves’) campaign in 2015 and later, for his rival, the AIADMK in 2020.
Controversies and future
Despite his professional accomplishments, Kanugolu has not been a stranger to controversy.
In December 2022, the Telangana police raided his firm, Mindshare Analytics. Allegations were made that derogatory social media posts had been made against Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao and his party, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, at the behest of Mindshare. The Congress denounced the raids as vendetta politics.
As a full-time Congress member, Sunil Kanugolu’s upcoming assignments include strategising for assembly elections in Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh over the next six months.
Read Also: IAF Plane Crashes, Pilots Ejects Safely