Political strategists can change Nepal’s election culture. How do they work anyway?

Political Strategist Bikash Pant (2)
Bikash Pant

Bikash Pant was at his cubicle in Deloitte’s Gurugram office when he suddenly received a message from the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) that read, “Do you want to create a change in society and work with political leaders?” He was 23, and hungry to create change in society. He accepted the offer and left his mundane 9-5 job for something that he now feels fate had planned for him.

“Deloitte (a global financial audit company) was a great place, but I felt I wasn’t adding enough value to my skills and before I knew it, I was in Maharashtra creating strategies for Shivsena for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he says.

Learning from the likes of Prashant Kishor among others at I-PAC, he gained knowledge about how political strategists worked and the need for them in today’s age.

Bringing that to Nepal, Pant recently worked as a political strategist for the election campaign of Nepali Congress leader and industrialist Binod Chaudhary. Using what he learnt in India and adapting the strategies based on the Nepali context, Pant claims he played a major role in Chaudhary’s victory as he defeated Hridayesh Tripathi in Nawalparasi 1 comfortably.

Now, with this, he hopes that more political leaders and parties understand the importance of political strategists, which he believes can help change the political landscape of the country for the better.

Need of the hour

“What we offer are clear plan and strategies that are research-based that will help them communicate with the public and gives them a chance to win.”

Pant feels that is the need of the hour now as the people have slowly shifted away from traditional parties as most can no longer connect with them. The rise of people like Balen Shah, Harka Sampang and most recently the Rastriya Swatantra Party is a clear example of how issued-based politics work. And, that is what political strategists offer.

“Mass-based politics is slowly dying. It’s dying in India and it will die here too, and as analysts, political strategists come up with plans to ensure issue-based politics is put forward as this not only helps the candidate but also the public as they understand what these candidates can offer,” he says.

Another reason for the need for political strategists is to give political leaders the ground reality of what exactly is going on. Usually, a candidate is surrounded by his/her people or “yes men”. Most of these people rarely tell leaders the reality.

He says he never has to please the leader. He just needs to tell them what their weakness is and where they can improve.

“It’s important to be honest,” he says. “If not, we can’t be on the same page and that will make the entire thing pointless.”

Working modality

Political Strategist Bikash Pant (4)
Pant with his team in Nawalpur 1 understands the public’s grievances.

To know the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders, political strategists use surveys. Each time there is an election, Pant and his team go to the constituency and meet people and gather information. This gives them a chance to know where the candidate stands and what can be done to change the perception of the public.

“I think when we identify issues that people from particular areas face, we can work towards ensuring how our candidate can solve them. Sure, many issues are policy centric, but many are people-centric and that is what we work towards solving.”

The survey also gives political strategists an idea of what type of people live there. This makes it easy for them to prepare speeches for the candidates. Otherwise, in Nepal, you have seen a tendency of leaders to speak whatever they feel like.

“Leaders need to connect to the people. Speaking whatever they feel like won’t work as it won’t resonate with people. I believe surveys give us an idea about the demographics of the area and what the people there are like and what issues they have.”

And, it worked to an extent in Binod Chaudhary’s case. An outsider in Nawalparasi 1, the industrialist defeated Tripathi, who had been elected lawmaker multiple times from the constituency. Why? He went on the ground, wore the same clothes every day and spoke to people from different areas and convinced them he would bring development to the region.

“We went ahead with issue-based politics and the people from the area supported us. We understand that traditional politics do not make sense anymore and voters are more conscious. Surely, you can feed them meat and alcohol like in the past, but those don’t convert to votes as many realised this time around.”

Problems of political strategists

Political Strategist Bikash Pant (1)
Binod Chaudary with Bikash Pant.

But, working in Nepal is not as easy for political strategists as Pant had hoped for. In India, things were smooth given he had full support from the party and its various wings. They listened to analysts like him and respected the suggestions given to them.

In Nepal, things were different. He was hired by Chaudhary, not by the Nepali Congress, and that meant the support he had hoped to get from the party was not coming.

“Many don’t understand what we do. They think we were there to take their place. But, that’s not true; we just want to help them not make the mistakes they have been in the past. Traditional politics is dead and people like me will just help them evolve,” he says.

He understood the way of doing politics in Nepal compared to India was different. Even though there are similarities in terms of people’s aspirations and problems, the support political strategists get from political parties in India and Nepal is totally different. 

“Moreover, India has a lot of caste-based politics which thankfully doesn’t exist in Nepal. This makes politics here less violent and it’s a good thing.”

But, that said, he hopes there are changes brought to the system starting with a lateral entry for professionals as many do not have the time to be active in full-time politics.

“We’ve seen how old leaders fared and the noise Rastriya Swatantra Party made. This is proof that we need new faces because people want change.”

That said, he does not expect things to change anytime soon. He has realised how different groups within parties were causing problems and for that tradition to change, he believes it is going to take years.

“The elections this year have set a good example but more needs to be done for this to change.”

For political strategists in Nepal, he hence believes this is just the start. As Nepal is gradually evolving as a democracy, he believes more and more leaders will hire people like him as most realise the importance of data and the need for clear strategies.

“We’ve seen how people like Trump, Modi among others have won elections. They didn’t do it by chance; they had a clear plan and all used clear strategies to win. It’s time Nepali leaders did too,” he says.

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Pant is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu. He covers issues ranging from tech, music, mountains, biodiversity and environment.

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