Avinash Iragavarapu’s political journey began, he says, right from birth. “My grandfather was in politics though not at a very high level. This is probably where my interest in politics began,” says the 30-year-old from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, who is now the executive director for the Arizona Republican Party — a job that involves creating political strategy for the party and its candidates after carefully analysing data.
Iragavarapu with Arizona Governor Doug Doucey (left) and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley
It’s a career that Iragavarapu has carefully etched out for himself through his graduation years while studying engineering at Vizag. “I volunteered for the local MLA/MLC-level campaigns by going from door-to-door. I must have been the only engineering student to do so. Most other volunteers were from BA etc,” he adds. Iragavarapu then went on to study at IIM-Lucknow and despite getting a plush job at HCL, politics remained a “hobby and passion”. He’d often head to Delhi to meet with friends who’d brief him on how politics worked there. In 2011, the YSR faction in Andhra Pradesh broke away from the main Congress and in 2014 (general elections year) Iragavarapu spent three weeks to understand what happens on the ground after which one can think of what strategy to create, which audience to target. For instance, though Telanga had not yet been created there, YSRC realised that the party was not doing well in that region and little would change its fortunes. Thus, less time was spent on trying to convert those people in YSRC voters.
After the elections (which weren’t successful, he adds), Iragavarapu went to Arizona, US, where his wife works with Intel. A political junkie, as he calls himself, he noticed the big hoardings for a political race around. “It was for the biggest race — the Governor’s race,” he says. What excited him was the rich amount of voter information that is available in the US that parties and candidates can use. Voters can register themselves as Republican, Democrat or Independent voters. Iragavarapu approached Doug Ducey, who was contesting the Republican primary (where those within the party choose their official candidate) and said he wanted to work with him and could help analyse data. Ducey had served as the CEO of Cold Stone Creamery before the electoral race and knew of IIM and took Iragavarapu on board. Once he won the primaries, he took Iragavarapu on board and hired him for the party. He won the governor’s race in January 2015. Iragavarapu too rose in the ranks and became executive director within the Arozona Republican party.
Ask him if there’s a difference in strategizing for an Indian and an American election, he says because of the kind of information available on American voters (even the kind of magazines you subscribe to is available to the analyst) strategizing is more data driven and consumer based. “Additionally, while both voters are intelligent, the Indian voter is more driven by emotions,” he adds. Money, of course, is an issue too. While the gubernatorial election budget would be the same as the budget for a race in Andhra Pradesh, just the difference in population — 6.7 million in Arizona Vs 50 million in Andhra Pradesh — makes all the difference.
That aside, how does he feel working for a party that is often seen as anti-immigrant. “I laugh when people say that. I am an Indian citizen working for the party. How would they be against immigrants if they hired me? The Republican Party is anti-illegal immigrants, just the way India doesn’t want illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,” he says, insisting that the party is not xenophobic. “They are pro-business people.”
We throw Donald trump at him — a man who seems to have the Republican Party divided down the middle. Just on Thursday, there was a report that dozens of Republican convention delegates were hatching a plan to block Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP presidential nominee.
But, Iragavarapu says, off camera, Trump is neither a hater nor a racist. Sometime, it’s just an image that one has to project during election time in order to get more face-time with the masses. “When he was fighting the elections, the Indian PM Narendra Modi criticized the Congress for playing cricket with the Congress. But, when he became the PM, he went and touched Nawaz Sharif’s mother’s feet. Once you become PM, or President you have to do things differently.” Politics then, remains the same everywhere.