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Himachal Pradesh: How Priyanka Gandhi & Bhupesh Baghel Scripted Congress' Win

The state leadership was central to the Congress' win but Priyanka Gandhi & Bhupesh Baghel also played a key role.

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It would be unfair to reduce Congress' victory in Himachal Pradesh to the state's 'Rivaj' or tradition of voting out the incumbent. If 'Rivaj' could guarantee victory then the Congress would have been in power in Uttarakhand and Kerala presently. Remember, Himachal Pradesh is a state where BJP had the highest vote share in the Lok Sabha elections - around 69 percent. So its defeat was not a foregone conclusion.

By most accounts, the Congress campaign in Himachal Pradesh was well managed, especially by Congress standards. The state leadership buried their differences and led a united and focused campaign.

In November, The Quint had reported on how by focussing on local issues and livelihood, the Himachal Pradesh Congress was leading a very effective campaign that had the potential to defeat the BJP.

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This piece would focus on a different aspect of the campaign - the key role played by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The duo faced a lot of flak following the debacle in the Uttar Pradesh elections earlier this year. The Himachal Pradesh win would no doubt come as a relief for them.

It also comes as a big victory for the party's in-charge for Himachal Pradesh, Rajeev Shukla, who is considered close to Priyanka Gandhi. AICC secretary Sanjay Dutt is also said to have played an important role.

To find out more about Bhupesh Baghel and Priyanka Gandhi's role, we spoke to several people involved in the Himachal Pradesh campaign - state unit leaders, leaders from other states who camped in Himachal Pradesh for the campaign, members of Priyanka Gandhi and Bhupesh Baghel's teams and a firm hired to work on the campaign.

Based on the insights we got, we have divided their role into five aspects.

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Ticket Selection

A party leader from outside Himachal Pradesh who camped in the state said, "They minimised the usual practise of alloting tickets based on quotas given to different state leaders. This is a big step as in several states this method had cost the Congress in the past".

It's not that there were no disputes. But when they did arise, Priyanka Gandhi would intervene and resolve things, revealed a party source.

A strategist who was hired by the party said that Priyanka Gandhi's involvement wasn't restricted to rallies.

"Priyanka Gandhi was actively tracking candidate selection. She got surveys conducted in every seat. In some seats, multiple surveys. She wanted to know exactly what is the situation on the ground."
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Har Ghar Laxmi Campaign

The state Congress had announced 10 guarantees in the beginning of September. Priyanka Gandhi and her team chose one of the guarantees for an intensive ground campaign: The Har Ghar Lakshmi Campaign - a promise of Rs 1500 per month for women.

A firm called Matrix Ground Strategies, comprising several former employees of Prashant Kishor's Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) actioned this campaign on the ground.

"People filled forms to enrol for the schemes. We ensured that their details are accurately noted and that they receive a call back. We wanted to assure them that Har Ghar Lakshmi is not just an empty promise and that the Congress is serious about delivering on its promise," a strategist with Matrix told The Quint.

A similar campaign was launched regarding employment. It was at the insistence of Priyanka Gandhi's team that the promise of 5 lakh jobs for the youth was tweaked to specify 1 lakh government jobs.

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Organisation and Booth Management

A war room was set up run by Baghel's team. His close advisor and former journalist Vinod Verma functioned as the main coordinator between Baghel, Priyanka Gandhi, the PCC and the vendors hired by the party.

Baghel is said to have been extremely hands on and looked into every aspect of the campaign and didn't hesitate to directly reach out to grassroots workers.

"He often got on a call directly with ground level workers, just too boost their morale," a person involved with the campaign said.

Priyanka Gandhi is said to have set up a team of Youth Congress volunteers, who camped in Himachal Pradesh six months in advance and worked on strengthening booth management.

The strategist at Matrix disclosed, "We knew that margins will be less. So we focused on 40 swing seats and set up booth level war rooms".

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Coordination With State Unit

An important characteristic of the approach followed by Bhupesh Baghel and Priyanka Gandhi is that at no point did they bulldoze or undermine the state unit.

"The state Congress was the heart and soul of the campaign. The credit is due entirely to them. We wanted to be force multipliers and not an impediment," a member of Priyanka Gandhi's team said.

The state leadership was central to the Congress' win but Priyanka Gandhi & Bhupesh Baghel also played a key role.

(Priyanka Gandhi and Bhupesh Baghel addressed several rallies in Himachal Pradesh)

(Himachal Pradesh Congress)

The task was made easier by the fact that all the state leaders had a hunger to come back to power in the state as they knew that a defeat could make it difficult to stage a revival in future.

By and large the sentiment in the state unit is that be it Baghel, Priyanka Gandhi or Rajeev Shukla, the involvement of central leaders was positive.

Another leader who pitched in towards the end and made a difference was Sachin Pilot.

Initially he was supposed to address only a limited number of rallies but after the overwhelming response he received, he is said to have told Priyanka Gandhi and the state unit that he is willing to address as many meetings as they want him to.

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The Baghel-Priyanka Equation

"She enjoys an exceptionally good working relationship with Bhupesh Baghel," said a member of Priyanka Gandhi's team.

"Baghel is a 24*7 politician and completely committed to party workers. Also he has mastered the art of spearheading sharp campaigns with limited resources," the member added.

On being asked whether Gandhi and Baghel learnt any lessons from the Uttar Pradesh debacle, a person who worked closely with both the leaders on the Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh campaigns said, "Yes, I feel that (in Uttar Pradesh) we did not try hard enough to make people stay back in the party. The mentality was 'if someone is going, let them go'. This was harmful".

"In Himachal, we tried not to repeat this. If someone wanted to leave, the top leaders tried their best to retain them. There were also some BJP leaders who wanted to join the party but we were unable to agree to their terms. However, the party leaders kept good terms with them and kept channels of communication open," the source said, adding that "this includes some of the candidates who have now won as Independents".

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from elections and himachal-pradesh-election

Topics:  Sachin Pilot   Rajeev Shukla   I-PAC 

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