Sunil Kanugolu is credited with masterminding the Congress’ emphatic Karnataka election victory. The 41-year-old low-profile strategist and Congress member, tailored the campaign with precision, and ensured that the party did not lose the plot until the end.
The Congress secured a stunning victory in the just-concluded Karnataka assembly polls, winning 136 of the 224 seats, while the BJP ended a distant second with 66 seats, and the JD(S) finished with 19 seats.
Who is Suni lKanugolu?
Born in Karnataka’s Ballari, Kanugolu completed his middle school education in the district. Later, he lived in Chennai before moving to Bengaluru.
After having worked for the BJP, DMK, and AIADMK in the past, Kanugolu joined the Congress last year after having extensive conversations with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
Though not a household name yet, the election guru was instrumental in planning Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, a march that covered a length of over 4,000 km from the southern tip of India to Jammu and Kashmir.
The “man of ideas, with a handle on the big picture”, his biggest strength lies in his panache to form personal relationships with the top leaders, mainly the Congress’ general secretary, Randeep Surjewala, former chief minister Siddaramaiah, and DK Shivakumar, besides KC Venugopal, who is seen to have helped him navigate the space.
He shared a personal connection with DMK supremo MK Stalin and AIADMK chief E Palaniswamy in the past. In Telangana too, where he is working on an designing an aggressive political attack against Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR’s government, he is known to share a personal bond with leaders such as Revanth Reddy.
“He has a personality that is calm but firm. He is low-profile, attention-hating, and because he always comes armed with data from field surveys, he cannot be bulldozed, and politicians find a lot of value in him in their everyday political work,” said a Congress insider, as quoted by NDTV.
It is Kanugolu’s dexterity in political campaigning that make him a force to be reckoned with – a man to hire or a man to fear.
The poll guru has been part of many election campaigns in the past, and understands that selection of candidates need to be marked by precision, a thorough analysis of polling behaviour, and crafting a campaign are critical for an electoral win.
Kanugolu was earlier a part of Prashant Kishor’s team that played a significant role in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll campaign in 2014.
Besides, he ran BJP’s poll campaigns in several states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka.
The Kanugolu signature was most spectacularly on display in the Karnataka election, which saw him guide the Congress to an overwhelming victory by hammering home issues relating to corruption in the BJP-led state government.
So, how did this son of a businessman come to be the not-so-secret weapon sending shudders down the spines of senior BJP leaders?
For this electoral bogeyman, exploiting unstated fears in the electorate, aggressively attacking the opposition as not just wrong but definitely lethal – has remained the Kanugolu signature, visible in a whole series of elections he’s managed in the past.