The Congress’ humiliating defeat in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections were a cumulative effect of bad data collection by its analytics team, an Economics Times report has suggested.
According to the report, the Grand Old Party failed to establish an accurate ear-to-ground sense, courtesy Project Shakti – Congress data analytics team – not being able to correctly gauge the Modi 2.0 wave.
To buttress these claims, the publication has cited an email by Praveen Chakravarty, a Wharton-educated investment banker and the head of the Congress data department since its inception in February 2018.
Even though the email doesn’t categorically answer the question as to why his team failed to do its primary job, party insiders have highlighted the key flaws in Project Shakti, which include collection of bad data, manufactured data, people working in silos and wrong feedback to decision makers in the party.
Project Shakti was formed with the core objective of transforming a loose volunteer-based party to a cadre-based organization, ahead of the general elections. The modus operandi to accomplish this objective was to link party workers’ voter IDs to their mobile numbers and addresses through an SMS.
According to party workers, Shakti was a platform that allowed Rahul Gandhi to talk to call a booth-level worker, who would be energized by such open communication. This, in turn, would energise the Congress.
The problem of fake data
The project was piloted in Karnataka ahead of assembly polls in May 2018. For the Congress to have 8-10 members per booth, the party needed 4-5 lakh members for the 55,000 booths that comprise Karnataka. This created a lot of pressure on party workers, some of whom subverted the effort by fake data. An insider told the publication that “30-40 percent of data had random names and phone numbers”.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, this procedure was emulated across states. Shakti insiders cited the example of Telangana, where a Congress member outsourced a call centre to this job while posing as an Election Commission official. He went door-to-door, took people’s voter IDs and phone numbers and sent SMSes. This way, he enrolled 12,000-15,000 members. The end result was “fake data of anywhere between 50 to 70 percent”.
No validation of data
The other major flaw was no oversight on Project Shakti, despite suggestions from party biggies, including Jairam Ramesh. This was because Chakravarty was not forthcoming with the data, not even with the social media team of the party, headed by Divya Spandana.
This working of Shakti in a silo had raised alarms among the top brass who flagged it to Rahul Gandhi’s office, but to no avail. They were concerned that an outsider was governing decision-making in the party. In fact, party insiders have told the paper that it was Chakravarty who fed the idea of Rafale to Rahul, despite senior leaders being against it.
Depending on inaccurate data for decision-making
The third flaw was relying on this data to gauge the mood of the nation, and making policy decisions according to it. Besides, the party workers never gave a genuine feedback to senior leaders. A member called it an “echo chamber”, where workers told leaders “what they wanted to hear”.
Some Congress members have even alleged that the decision on whether or not forge an alliance was based on the data provided by Shakti, even though the methodology of conducting the surveys and how the inference was drawn was never shared.
A senior functionary told the paper, “Red flags were raised over bad data being sent to the party president’s office… but no one paid heed to it”. “Hardly any of us were involved in any decision-making process… how could we have given inputs or checked the data.”
While some still believe that the idea of Shakti is valuable even though its use was deeply flawed, some others have called it a “colossal failure”, where an “assumption was made that there was an anti-BJP wave and that voters will automatically vote for Congress”.