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Silent soldiers of BJP

Patna, July 22: Every day around 8 in the morning, 30-year-old Pankaj Mishra starts out from his apartment in central Patna on his motorcycle, everyday a different destination, some as far as 200km away.

Mishra (whose name has been changed by The Telegraph on his request) is one of the half-a-dozen footsoldier-strategists working in the team of "General" Amit Shah, making a bid for the modern day Magadh of the reigning monarch Nitish Kumar.

Mishra was also part of the team that saw Shah's strategy for the Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh (the BJP and allies won a landslide, triumphing in 73 of the 80 seats) and the Assembly polls in Jharkhand (the NDA got 43 of the 81 seats).

Like the rival war-room manned by Narendra Modi's election guru for 2014 Prashant Kishor, the BJP brainstrust comprises bright 30-something professionals, most of them PhD holders from prestigious institutions such as JNU or TISS.

"It is not that the BJP is sitting silent, while Nitish is hiring game-changer professionals. The researchers hired by the BJP have been criss-crossing the hinterlands of the state for the past five to six months. Their influence in the upcoming elections would be so much that the strategy and even allotment of seats to candidates would depend on their feedback," said a senior leader in the BJP, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the subject.

Mishra and his fellow researchers - all of them are males - have been working in a highly covert manner. Unlike Team Prashant Kishor, the BJP's boys don't work from any office as they are always on their toes.

"We travel on motorbikes, jeeps, buses, trains, any mode of transport, covering hundreds of kilometres on an almost daily basis. Not more than two of us stay at one place at the same time," said Mishra.

What exactly does Mishra do on a normal trip?

"Our brief is to carry out an exhaustive analysis of specifics of the socio-political climate in all 243 Assembly constituencies - this comprises booth-mapping, gauging voter mindset, studying caste-dynamics, polling history and level of development among various aspects. All this work is being done by talking to people at the extreme micro-level, so as to frame a holistic and accurate vision for the elections and even beyond that," said Mishra, who hails from Delhi. Most of these professionals are not natives of the state, but they speak Hindi.

The BJP realises that the battle is a stiff one - purely on the basis of numbers, the rival camp has its nose ahead (about 46% vote share to the NDA's 39%). For the BJP and its allies to succeed, they have to take the battle beyond the boundaries drawn up by caste configurations and numbers.

Mishra hides his true identity - at various places he is a budding author, a social researcher, an agent for a market research firm and so on - and moves around Assembly segments. "We talk to almost all sections of society, ranging from political and religious leaders, businessmen, servicemen, farmers and financially poor voters. The selection of subjects is at times random or based on feedback from our sources. The interaction with the subject is mostly in the form of informal talks with no paper-work like a feedback form involved," he said.

Team Prashant Kishor is usually armed with questionnaires, its members carrying iPads and iPhones, making their notes instantly.

It is this ground-level reporting by the researchers which is being used to cross-check the internal surveys being conducted by the BJP for selection of candidates. "Normally, in any election, political parties go for three rounds of pre-poll surveys. In this case as well, the first phase of survey has been done by the BJP and the corresponding reports have also been sent to the party high command in Delhi around 2-3 weeks ago. Our reports would also be used to triangulate the validity of the findings of the survey," said the BJP leader.

The BJP researchers don't follow any regimented routine. If needed, they start their day as early as 4 in the morning and travel till 2-3am in the night with small halts on their way to reach their next destination.

They can travel up to four districts in two days on a motorbike. They keep talking to local people wherever they take a halt. They eat at roadside eateries or line hotels and at times they have to sleep in hotels or lodges without taking dinner as they reach their destination in the hinterlands in the wee hours. All they carry with them is a backpack containing a few clothes, a laptop and few books.

Though these researchers are directly influencing the election-strategy of the BJP, the majority of the party leadership in the state is completely unaware about their operations. Leader of the Opposition in the legislative council Sushil Modi in fact denied any information about this "backroom" operation.

BJP sources said these researchers have been hired by the high command in Delhi. "They directly report to Ananth Kumar and Dharmendra Pradhan, who in turn report to Amit Shah," said the BJP insider.

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