The Data Man, India Today

The Data Man, India Today

Sudhanshu Mittal’s biggest asset is that he is a walking talking poll data base. 

Both Coca-Cola and Pramod Mahajan do not reveal their winning formula,” the late BJP leader once said when asked about his electoral strategies. Sudhanshu Mittal, however, was both Mahajan’s worst-kept secret and his winning formula. If Mahajan had the flamboyance, Mittal had the flair.

Mittal’s love for data and details became the backbone of Mahajan’s politics. The two were a formidable team ever since they first crunched numbers and networked across parties to install the first BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra in 1995 without a clear majority.

Since then the duo planned the party strategy for three general elections. Few know that Mittal was the brain behind the 2003 BJP sweep in Rajasthan, a state given to Mahajan to deliver. Eighteen months before the elections, Mittal compiled a comprehensive survey of each constituency in the state, so when the polls were announced the duo were ready with their strategy and a candidate list that included 56 ‘dummy’ candidates to split the Congress vote.

Today three years after Mahajan’s death, Mittal is perhaps the sole inheritor of his legacy and acumen. Before his death, Mahajan had been handling the 2006 Assembly polls in Assam. Although the BJP lost, Mittal realised that the defeat could have been avoided if the AGP and the BJP had not cut into each other’s votes. He took a constituency-wise analysis to the AGP leadership and worked out an alliance that is likely to give the BJP nine of the 14 Lok Sabha seats with the AGP getting the lion’s share in the Assembly.

Mittal also helped Sushma Swaraj, the BJP leader in charge of alliances, to tie up with the INLD recently. It is to tap this network of both data and cross-party connections that the BJP chief Rajnath Singh gave him the joint charge of the North-east, a move that the BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley protested against. Since Advani had okayed Mittal’s charge and most others in the party such as Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi, Venkaiah Naidu and Yashwant Sinha agreed, the appointment stayed.

It is ironic that Mittal’s main detractor is a man who inducted him into politics in the first place. He claims that it was Jaitley who got him to contest the university polls from the Janata Vidyarthi Morcha in 1981. As DUSU chief he supported the All Assam Students’ Union. In fact, both Jaitley and Mittal went to the same school and college—St. Xavier’s and Shri Ram College of Commerce. Mittal became a member of the BJP’s national council in 1984 and was renominated in 2005 by Advani and again in 2008 by Rajnath. He was an office-bearer of the Yuva Morcha when he first met Mahajan. Working political deals with Mahajan gave him the somewhat unsavoury reputation of a wheeler-dealer. Mittal rubbishes the accusations of using party connections to make money from corporate houses saying, “I was born rich.”

The Mittals have run the Delhi Tent House for three generations which has earned Sudhanshu the sobriquet ‘tentwallah’. Although he has never fought a single Lok Sabha election, the commerce graduate has mapped every village in each constituency along with details of roads, the size and income of households, the literacy, age and gender profiles. “After 1989, I realised that caste played a major role in deciding elections and began caste profiling of constituencies,” he says.

Like Mahajan, he too has a bank of cross-party connections ranging from the Badals, O.P. Chautala, H.D. Deve Gowda to both JD(U) leaders Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, often supplying the NDA allies with constituency profiles. In today’s age of coalition politics and new age campaigning, it would be foolish to sneer at Mittal’s USP.

—Priya Sahgal

News Source: India Today
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