Sunil Kanugolu — the poll strategist behind Congress’ win in Telangana

PTI, Dec 3, 2023, 5:59 PM IST

Poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu has yet again proven to be the man with the Midas touch, plotting the Congress’ amazing turnaround in Telangana months after being the architect of the grand old party’s return to power in Karnataka.

Starting with Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC, Kanugolu was largely credited for shaping the Congress’ win in Karnataka and was later accorded Cabinet rank in the Siddaramaiah government.

This time, Kanugolu along with PCC chief A Revanth Reddy formed a formidable pair to chalk out the Congress’ strategy to pull down the K Chandrashekhar Rao-led BRS government that was eying a third term in the southern state.

The Congress was headed for victory in Telangana while it was staring at crushing defeats in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan.

Kanugolu had also made forays in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh following a directive from the party’s central leadership but regional satraps Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath reportedly were not on the same page as the poll strategist.

Ahead of the Rajasthan elections, Kanugolu had made an assessment about the winnability of probable candidates but Gehlot reportedly did not agree to his suggestions and brought in Naresh Arora’s Designboxed to construct the Congress government’s narrative in the run-up to the assembly polls.

Sources say that the success of Kanugolu in Karnataka and Telangana was the result of the free hand given to him and allowing his team to work freely.

Kanugolu, who hails from Karnataka and is in his early 40s, has been considered largely as the brain behind the Congress’ narrative in Karnataka with the ‘PayCM’ campaign against the BJP. In the run-up to the polls in Telangana, he highlighted the alleged corruption of the K Chandrashekhar Rao dispensation as part of Congress’ campaign that seemed to have struck a chord with the people.

The campaigns run by the Congress in Karnataka and Telangana have been very similar as both highlighted the alleged graft of the ruling dispensation and projected welfare guarantees that seemed to have struck an instant connection with the public.

Interestingly, Kanugolu has also been involved in several BJP poll campaigns in the past. In 2018, he worked with the BJP in Karnataka and the party managed to become the single largest party with 104 seats.

He had also worked on Narendra Modi’s campaign in 2014, as well as the party’s political campaigns in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

Kanugolu, a former consultant with McKinsey, was also associated with DMK chief MK Stalin and oversaw the party’s ‘Namakku Naame’ (we are for ourselves) campaign during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2021, he also worked with AIADMK against the DMK and led the party to win 75 seats in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections.

Kanugolu had joined the Congress last year and worked closely with the Karnataka campaign.

He is also credited with strategising Rahul Gandhi’s cross-country ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Kashmir last year.

Having delivered Karnataka and Telangana to the Congress, Kanugolu is likely to be given more responsibilities by the party in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

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