Election strategist Sunil Kanugolu, credited with crafting the Congress' impressive victory in the assembly election in Telangana, likes to remain under the radar and work behind the scenes. He stayed away from the limelight so much that the mediapersons did not even know what he looked like and struggled to find a picture of the man to go with their reportage on the assignment that the party had given him.
In the fag end of 2022, the 41-year-old Kanugolu, months after he had joined the Congress, was inducted into the party's task force set up by the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi to look for strategies for the Lok Sabha elections and the assembly polls that would be held before that. Quietly, Kanugolu, has been working as an election strategist for over a decade found a place in the top echelons of the Congress' election strategy set-up.
Kanugolu, who had played an important role in devising the Congress' strategy for the assembly elections in Karnataka, is believed to have been given a free hand in working out the party's campaign in Telangana. The party's bid for power in Telangana included neutralising the BJP's presence in the state as a third player, convincing Y.S. Sharmila to not put up candidates which would have worked against the Congress, focusing on the state leaders as a dynamic and aggressive bunch, multiple rounds of yatras and massive public outreach, emphasis on the Gandhis in the campaign, and stress on the decisive role played by Sonia Gandhi in the creation of Telangana.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra had passed through Telangana and is believed to set the momentum for the party's campaign in the state. Kanugolu had a key role in the planning of Rahul's cross-country yatra.
Kanugolu, who is learnt to have the trust of Rahul Gandhi, was months ago introduced by Rahul himself to state leaders and he was present in the meetings that were convened by party president Mallikarjun Kharge in the national capital to oversee the poll preparation in the states. It is learnt that Kanugolu could not have much of a say in the campaign strategy in the other states that went to polls.
Kanugolu had joined the Congress right before the party entered into discussions with the high-profile election strategist-turned-political activist Prashant Kishor with regard to what ideas he had for a revamp of the Congress and whether he should join the party. Kanugolu has, in the past, worked with Kishor. He was with Kishor as part of the Citizens for Accountable Governance that had devised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
The low-profile election strategist is a Telugu whose family hails from Bellari. He was born and brought up in Chennai. Kanugolu worked with management consulting company McKinsey in the US before he returned to India and began his stint as an election strategist with Modi's campaign for the 2014 elections. He has worked with the DMK for the assembly elections in 2016. That same year, he launched a strategy group called the Association of Billion Minds that worked to enhance the BJP's public outreach. He has worked with the BJP for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. He was hired by the AIADMK in 2021 to work on its poll campaign for the assembly elections.