Emerging from the shadows of their mentor, ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor, Andhra Pradesh is the stage to prove their mettle.
When Robbin Sharrma joined the team of young poll strategists at Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) in August 2013, Rishi Raj Singh had already been working with Prashant Kishor for a couple of months.
Colleagues at CAG — the organisation that played a crucial role in bringing the Narendra Modi-led BJP to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha election — Sharrma and Singh went on to become founding members of Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) with Kishor in 2015.
Years down the line, the former colleagues find themselves on opposite sides of Andhra Pradesh politics.
In Andhra Pradesh, the 2024 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are not just a battle between Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP and Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, but a clash of poll strategists Rishi Raj Singh and Robbin Sharrma.
Singh, who is currently heading I-PAC, is working with YSRCP. Sharrma, with his ShowTime Consultancy, is engaged with TDP, in full exclusivity, especially after TDP parted ways with MindShare Analytics, the firm of another prominent poll strategist, Sunil Kanugolu, earlier this year.
Proteges of the most celebrated poll strategist of them all, Prashant Kishor, Rishi Raj Singh and Robbin Sharrma have the stage set in Andhra Pradesh to prove their mettle.
An MBA graduate with a certification in robotics from IIT Bombay, Robbin Sharrma was working as a consultant with Accenture before he joined CAG.
Both Robbin Sharrma and Rishi Raj Singh’s work centered around implementation of digital and on-ground campaigns for Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Among the campaigns entrusted to Robbin for on-ground implementation was the popular “Chai Pe Charcha”.
In 2015, when CAG was dissolved, Robbin became one of the founding members of I-PAC which ran Nitish Kumar’s poll campaign successfully in Bihar.
Sharrma ran ground operations as campaign head for Nitish Kumar’s 2015 cycle campaign. The campaign used over 5,000 cycles and took Nitish Kumar’s “Saat Nishchay” (seven promises) to remote villages of Bihar under the “Har Ghar Nitishe, Har Man Nitishe” slogan.
In 2016, Sharrma worked on “Rahul Sang Khat Sabha” campaign for Rahul Gandhi in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls covering 40 districts when I-PAC worked with Congress — the only election that Prashant Kishor has lost as a strategist so far.
“When working with Congress, Sharrma came up with a digital platform called ‘Neta’ but it didn’t take off as expected,” a former colleague of Robbin and Rishi told South First.
Neta was an app that allowed citizens to rate their local MLAs and MPs and was meant to be a tool to gauge the mood of voters. Robbin Sharrma was CEO of the Neta app from September 2017, when I-PAC was working with Congress.
For a brief period in 2019, Sharrma worked as campaign manager to Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Later, Robbin Sharrma parted ways and moved on to start his own political consultancy firm, ShowTime Consulting (STC). After his party’s disastrous show in the 2019 Andhra Pradesh assembly polls, TDP Chief N Chandrababu Naidu hired Robbin Sharrma’s firm to help revive his fortunes.
Interestingly, a team of Robbin’s also worked on the Aam Admi Party (AAP) campaign in Punjab in 2022. The party swept the state with a record number of Assembly seats. AAP’s flagship campaign slogan, “Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu, Ik Mauka Bhagwant Mann Nu”, sources close to him claim, was coined by Robbin himself.
TDP’s latest campaign “Idhem Kharma”, which is aimed at exposing the alleged misrule and failures of the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government is said to be Robbin Sharrma’s brainchild.
An STC insider said “Badude Badudu” and “Idhem Kharma” are only a sample and the beginning of their work for TDP and there are lot many such campaigns in the offing.
STC’s teams are also busy preparing strategies for TDP scion Nara Lokesh’s padayatra slated to be launched on January 27. He is expected to walk 4,000 km in 400 days.
From the inception of CAG in 2013, Rishi Raj Singh has been with Prashant Kishor.
While several early members of CAG and I-PAC, like Robbin Sharrma and Sunil Kanugolu, have gone on to start their own firms, Rishi Raj Singh has stuck by Kishor’s side.
It came as no surprise that he was handed the driver’s seat at I-PAC when Kishor decided to take a break from strategising for other political parties and begin his own political movement in Bihar.
While I-PAC was rehired by YSRCP to drive its campaign for the 2024 polls, Rishi Raj Singh has taken over the mantle of the most sought-after poll strategist. Due to the non-availability of Prashant Kishor, who is busy in his home state of Bihar with his “Jan Suraaj” yatra making his own political career, his trusted lieutenant is now steering I-PAC.
Rishi Raj Singh hails from Uttar Pradesh and is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Kanpur. Singh worked with HSBC and Credit Suisse before becoming one of the founding members of Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) in 2013 along with Prashant Kishor.
Rishi Raj Singh was tasked with heading CAG’s operations in implementing Narendra Modi’s personal campaigns in Uttar Pradesh – where Narendra Modi himself contested from Varanasi. Rishi Raj Singh was assisted by Robbin Sharrma in the implementation of key campaigns like Chai pe Charcha, 3D hologram meets on-ground in Uttar Pradesh.
Later, Rishi and Prashant exited CAG and launched I-PAC, which worked in the Bihar elections for Nitish Kumar. They helped JD-U to win the Bihar elections.
Rishi had taken active role in I-PAC’s outcomes for Bihar, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, New Delhi, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.
In 2019 polls I-PAC’s campaign strategies, especially of Jagan’s padayatra, helped YSRCP to romp home with a historic win of 151 Assembly and 22 Lok Sabha seats.
The first outreach programme ‘Gadapa Gadapa Ku Mana Prabhuthvam’ launched a few months back is being closely monitored by I-PAC teams and sending the reports and inputs from the ground straight to party supremo and chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
“Rishi Raj Singh in fact took part in a couple of workshops conducted by I-PAC and the party to the leaders and elected representatives regarding ‘Gadapa Gadapa Ku’. The party chief also introduced him to our leaders in one such meeting,” a YSRCP leader told South First.
“He is not new to Andhra Pradesh or the core members of the party as he was actively involved in the 2019 campaign along with Prashant Kishor. Now, that Prashant Kishor is busy elsewhere Rishi’s engagement with the party had gone up,” he added.
In a rare gesture, YS Jagan after the 2019 polls and became the chief minister, along with his wife YS Bharathi Reddy, attended Rishi Raj’s wedding held outside Andhra Pradesh.
(With inputs from Anusha Ravi Sood)