For 2014 polls, parties net techies as 'backroom boys'

Nandabn NilekaniTechnology is an important piece of poll strategy and a vital tool in a party and candidate’s arsenal’ says Nandan Nilekani

In several discrete locations in Bangalore, India's hi-tech capital, huddles of techies are stooped over their computers, working on big data and cloud computing, data analytics and digital marketing. Intriguingly though, they are not executing projects for a multinational customer in a distant country. These are the "back offices" of leading political parties drawing on the latest technologies to gain a competitive edge in the 2014 elections.

In a changing India, where orthodox methods of preparing for an election are becoming less significant, technology offers parties a new advantage in what is likely to be a closely-fought election in 2014. "Technology is an important piece of poll strategy and a vital tool in a party and candidate's arsenal," said Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), India's digital ID programme.

The technology billionaire, who co-founded and ran the IT services firm Infosys, should know. After heading UIDAI for the last five years, Nilekani is preparing to leap into politics as the Congress party's candidate from Bangalore South in the 2014 elections. At the core of his campaign is a hi-tech "back office" which is already in place although the official announcement of his candidature is yet to come. "Data analytics is gaining salience as an election tactic," Nilekani said.

Technology's prominence in Indian electoral politics has come on the back of the intersection of one or two prominent trends. The field of data analytics has matured. "Hard government data such as census statistics and booth-wise election polling numbers were always available but in scattered, hard-to-digest format. This election will mark the first such where parties are gathering raw data, refining it and understanding voting patterns by age, gender, caste, religion and so on," said B G Mahesh, founder and MD of OneIndia.in, a mentor at Niti Digital which works on media, data and volunteer-driven campaigns for Narendra Modi's bid for prime ministership.

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