Sunil Kanugolu, The Data-Driven Strategist Behind Congress’s Karnataka Win

Sunil Kanugolu, The Data-Driven Strategist Behind Congress's Karnataka Win

Sunil Kanugolu has been a part of many election campaigns prior to now.

New Delhi:

If the battle of narratives varieties the bedrock of politics, the precision to which political events go to pick candidates, examine polling behaviour, and craft a marketing campaign is equally necessary for an electoral victory.

If the Congress, which gained the meeting polls in Karnataka with a historic 136 seats on Saturday, had all this working for the celebration this time, it was due to the outstanding function performed by Sunil Kanugolu, a 41-year-old low-profile strategist and Congress member who crafted the marketing campaign and didn’t let the celebration lose sight of it till the top.

Known to be a “man of concepts, with a deal with on the massive image”, Mr Kanugolu, initially a Telugu who has roots in Karnataka and now lives in Bengaluru, grew up in Chennai and hails from a enterprise household. After having labored for the BJP, DMK, and AIADMK prior to now, Mr Kanugolu joined the Congress final 12 months after having lengthy conversations with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, primarily as a result of he wished to take up a problem and work with a celebration that was near the values he believes in, stated an in depth good friend of his.

According to those that know him effectively, Mr Kanugolu’s greatest power is his means to type private relationships with the outstanding leaders of the celebration and combine his staff’s marketing campaign into their on a regular basis work.


Sunil Kanugolu with DK Shivakumar.

“He has a persona that’s calm however agency. He is low-profile, attention-hating, and since he at all times comes armed with knowledge from area surveys, he can’t be bulldozed, and politicians discover a variety of worth in him of their on a regular basis political work,” stated a Congress insider.

In Karnataka, Mr Kanugolu labored exhausting to construct a powerful working relationship with the opposite outstanding leaders operating the marketing campaign, primarily the celebration’s basic secretary, Randeep Surjewala, Siddaramaiah, and DK Shivakumar, other than KC Venugopal, who’s seen to have helped him navigate the area. This was not an exception, as in virtually each non-BJP marketing campaign he has labored on, he has shared a private reference to the chief, be it DMK supremo MK Stalin or AIADMK head E Palaniswamy prior to now. In Telangana too, the place he’s engaged on mounting an aggressive political assault towards Chief Minister Ok Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR’s authorities, he’s identified to share a private bond with leaders comparable to Revanth Reddy.

“This makes it simple for his staff to combine into the system and work with politicians, making the marketing campaign extra human-centric. In another instances of pollsters, we’ve got seen celebration leaders getting upset with strategists and their staff members, however with Sunil, that does not occur,” one other celebration functionary stated.

Getting the narrative proper and within the celebration’s favour is Mr Kanugolu’s greatest power, and with a background in market analysis, his staff depends on a variety of area surveys, modern-day analytics, and getting an correct sense of what’s occurring on the bottom.

In Karnataka, Mr Kanugolu got here up with the “PayCM” marketing campaign towards the Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP authorities at a time when his detractors have been fast to level out that “corruption was not an enormous concern in South India”.

“But what the marketing campaign did was give our celebration a variety of ammunition to assault the federal government and join with individuals. It gave us the higher hand over the BJP, which saved treating it like a gimmick,” the one who labored on the Congress marketing campaign stated.

Mr Kanugolu began his preparations a 12 months in the past, only a month after becoming a member of the Congress. He had additionally recused himself from engaged on the Congress marketing campaign in Gujarat, because the time was brief. In Himachal Pradesh, his staff labored on area surveys to determine the candidates.

“Sunil has deal with on the massive image, and he does not neglect the main points. He delegates and trusts his staff in relation to detailing. He loves engaged on on a regular basis snapshots of political campaigning. But the narrative setting is an on a regular basis process for him; he’s relentless. He strongly believes that in politics, for those who do not put your narrative out, another person will. So, one has to maintain at it,” stated the above-quoted individual.

When it involves narratives, Mr Kanugolu has his strengths. It was he who introduced collectively elements comparable to Tamil satisfaction and the Dravidian mannequin throughout the Jallikattu protests of 2017, serving to the DMK counter an aggressive BJP.

Filed Surveys

The marketing campaign designed by Mr Kanugolu that began with “PayCM” continued with “Kivi Mele Hoova” (flower over the ear), suggesting how individuals had been short-changed. The 5 ensures of the Congress that Mr Kanugolu’s staff fine-tuned and insisted on making them simple to recollect have been accompanied by a tough copy of the assure card in each family, other than crucial process of candidate choice. This is the primary time the Congress relied on in depth area surveys and never simply the non-public preferences of native leaders. Known for his insistence on scientific evaluation of polling knowledge, Mr Kanugolu, in accordance with those that have labored with him, insists on in depth area surveys, statistics, analytics, and capturing traits utilizing trendy methods, as a substitute of relying solely on call-centre-driven knowledge gathering.

Another one who labored on the celebration’s marketing campaign identified that even when the Congress was just a little apprehensive about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies making it tough for the Congress in Karnataka, Mr Kanugolu insisted on specializing in the specifics.

“He does not settle for it for those who simply say ‘Hawa badal raha hai’; he’ll work in the direction of realizing if the influence is nice sufficient to alter voting patterns after which work in the direction of that,” he stated.

Mr Kanugolu is predicted to play an important function within the upcoming elections and likewise within the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, however his rapid duties might be to deal with the celebration’s marketing campaign within the states of Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh.


Mr Kanugolu has been a part of many election campaigns prior to now, notably of the BJP. Incidentally, the election marketing campaign in Karnataka in 2018 noticed him engaged on the BJP aspect, and the celebration managed to change into the one largest celebration with 104 seats. Mr Kanugolu has labored with the worldwide administration consulting agency McKinsey earlier than beginning work with political events. He led the Association of Billion Minds (ABM), which suggested the BJP on varied poll-related work, earlier than quitting it 4 years in the past to begin on his personal. Known to be deeply influenced by Periyar, caste actions within the nation, on a regular basis caste discrimination, and using social organizations to counter them are a few of his key pursuits, other than Tamil cinema.

Apart from being a part of Narendra Modi’s marketing campaign in 2014, Mr Kanugolu was a part of many BJP campaigns, notably in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in 2017. He was additionally related to MK Stalin and oversaw its ‘Namakku Naame’ (We are for Ourselves) marketing campaign throughout the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the celebration gained 38 of the overall 39 seats. Later, Mr Kanugolu additionally labored with AIADMK towards the DMK and led the celebration to win 75 seats within the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.

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