The Niti Idea
My foray into the periphery of politics also began with a failure and an idea. I started Friends of BJP in January 2009 just before the general elections in April-May. In the aftermath of the election results when BJP touched a new low of 116 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, it was clear that we had made no difference. But out of these experiences came the desire to do something in the political space. Through various conversations and reflections came a wild idea – could the BJP win a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? It was the era of coalition governments – no single party had won a majority since 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi swept to power in a massive sympathy wave after the assassination of his mother, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
I started with the thought that a single party in power would accomplish much more than a ragtag coalition. So, instead of thinking 180-200 seats, what would it take for a party (in this case, BJP) to win 272+ so it did not have to depend on other parties to govern? This single idea laid the foundation for my political venture – Niti Digital. In June 2011, I wrote a series on my blog at emergic.org outlining how it could be done. To the political players, what I was proposing seemed impossible – India was then the country of coalitions, an aggregation of state outcomes. I proposed a different approach – to make the next election a wave election where voters rose above caste, class and community to vote as one. A very different campaign would need to be run to make this happen.
It was then that I also decided that instead of me being a passive bystander, I would become an active participant. That led me to create Niti Digital in early 2012 – with Niti being an acronym for New Institutions to Transform India. I funded the venture myself. Niti grew to a staff of nearly one hundred at its peak. Niti’s mission was to help the BJP win a majority on its own in the 2014 elections. Success was binary – and we would know in May 2014. All activities in Niti were driven by a single question: in case we fail, would I regret making the attempt? So I moved ahead and created the four verticals in Niti – media, data, analytics and volunteering.
Niti was an entrepreneurial venture. It succeeded in its mission – not from a financial standpoint (there was none), but from the eventual outcome with BJP winning 282 seats on its own in the 2014 general elections. In a sense, it was also a proficorn – private, ‘profitable’ (in its eventual success), promoter-funded, and had an important impact in the national campaign.
The starting point was again a simple idea born out of an entrepreneur’s desire to not let the past dictate the future. I was an outsider in the political sphere, which worked to my advantage. I had no mental baggage about what was doable and what was not – I just applied my entrepreneurial mindset to solve a different problem with a big, bold idea.