Sunil Kanugolu is an Indian political strategist and tactician. In April 2022, the Indian National Congress officially announced that Kanugolu accepted the offer to oversee their election campaigns in various states of India. In May 2022, Sonia Gandhi named him as a member of Congress’ 2024 Lok Sabha polls task force.
According to some sources, Sunil Kanugolu was born in 1982 NDTV (age 41 years; as of 2023) in Bellary, Karnataka, India, whereas some sources said that he was born in 1983 The Quint (age 40 years; as of 2023). He pursued a bachelor’s degree in technology at Anna University, Chennai, Tamil Nadu. He completed his primary schooling at Bellary, Karnataka. He completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at New York University, New York, USA. He holds a Master in Finance (MS) degree from New York University, New York. Although he was born in Bellary, Karnataka, to a Kannadiga father and a Telugu mother, he grew up in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Height (approx.): 5′ 6″
Weight (approx.): 70 kg
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
There is not much information about his parents. His brother’s name is Sushil Kanugolu. He was a businessman and founded Fipola, a modern meat retail company, in 2016.
His wife’s name is not known.
He worked closely with Narendra Modi in 2010 and was associated with Modi’s election campaigning during the 2012 Gujarat Legislative Assembly election. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Sunil worked closely with Prashant Kishor, who masterminded the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaigns and strategies; Sunil was Prashant’s close aid. The election-campaign group named Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) was created by Prashant ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election; the group campaigned for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). CAG’s social campaigns such as the Chai pe Charcha and 3D rallies helped the BJP to bolster their vote share and public approval. BJP registered a landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election owing to Prashant’s and Kanugolu’s data-driven analytic field surveys and engineering; they helped build Modi as the supreme leader of the BJP and popularised his image throughout the nation.
The BJP was tremendously interested in their services and wanted them to head the election campaigns for the legislative assembly elections in several Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka; however, Prashant left the BJP in 2015 due to the differences of opinion with the party high command. Later, the BJP leadership entrusted Sunil as the in-charge for the state assembly elections. In October 2016, he created the Association of Brilliant Minds (ABMs) at the request of the BJP leadership ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly election. Some reports suggested that the ABM was built to challenge Kishor and the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC); Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) was renamed as I-PAC in 2015 following Kishor’s exit from the BJP. ABM conducted surveys and voter profiling of constituencies and spearheaded the election campaign for the BJP. The BJP recorded a massive victory in the election and won 325 seats. The Indian National Congress party appointed Prashant as their election strategist for the 2017 UP legislative assembly election.
Sunil helped BJP counter their former associate’s tactics and established himself as one of the top election strategists in the country with the BJP’s unprecedented victory. Kanugolu closely worked with the Tamil Nadu chief minister M. K. Stalin and strategized for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) party in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election. DMK won 89 seats of the 178 they contested with an improved margin of 66 seats compared to the previous election; however, the DMK+ allies performed poorly and failed to win the majority. The Namakku Naame campaign was a huge success, helping Stalin to assert his position as one of the prominent leaders in Tamil Nadu politics amid veteran leaders such as J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. Some reports suggested Sunil assisted the DMK during the 2017 Jallikattu protests to counter the BJP with campaigns inspired by Tamil pride and the Dravidian model. Later, he worked jointly with Amit Shah and was the chief strategist for the BJP during the legislative assembly elections in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka. BJP enjoyed a comfortable victory in the 2018 Karnataka legislative assembly election. The saffron party’s thumping victory was referred to by many as the result of the pollster’s relentless groundwork and action plans.
According to some reports, Kanugolu was a close associate of the then-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah; they worked together between 2014 and February 2018. The pollster was the command-in-chief of the BJP’s election campaigning in several states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka, all of which the BJP won. In 2018, he parted ways with the ABM; he quit reportedly due to the ideological differences between him and the BJP leadership. Sunil masterminded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham’s election strategies ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. DMK and the Secular Progressive Alliance emerged victorious in the Lok Sabha elections. DMK fielded 20 candidates, and all of them emerged victorious.
He terminated his services with the DMK party ahead of the 2021 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election. Some reports suggested that the pollster was upset when DMK appointed Prashant Kishor to spearhead their election campaign. Although some of the DMK leaders tried to convince him to work alongside Kishor, he reportedly informed the party it was inconvenient for him and left DMK. Later, AIADMK secured his services for the 2021 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election and won 66 seats. In 2022, Sunil reportedly worked with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) during the 2022 Punjab Legislative Assembly election; however, Akali Dal faced a massive setback and only won three seats. The Indian National Congress (INC) leadership first tried to hire Sunil as the party’s election strategist in 2021. The official announcement of Kanugolu joining the Congress came in May 2022 after lengthy discussions and meetings. Some reports suggested that the INC approached Sunil Kanugolu after Prashant Kishor snubbed the Congress’ offer to join the party on 26 April 2022.
Soon after joining the party, he was given charge of organizing and analyzing election campaigns for the upcoming legislative assembly elections; however, it was rumoured that the INC secured his services to improve their chances in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Some reports suggested that Kanugolu came up with the idea of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which occurred between 7 September 2022 and 30 January 2023. Sunil’s Mindshare Analytics reportedly started their groundworks and surveys one year ahead of the 2023 Karnataka legislative assembly election. The election focus points for the INC were unemployment, corruption, and Kannada pride. His PayCm, Kivi Mele Hoova, and 40% Commission Sarkara campaigns resonated well among the public. To counter the narrative of the BJP leaders, who claimed that corruption was not a big issue in South India, he introduced the PayCM campaign. The Congress leadership and followers pasted QR codes with the photograph of the BJP’s chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai in various parts of the state. Anyone who scanned the code was then taken to the 40% Sarkara website, which accused the BJP government of charging 40% commission on public works.
The Congress launched the ‘five guarantees’ introduced by Sunil and his team following the success of their previous campaigns. The five guarantees were Gruha Jyothi (200 units of free electricity per month), Gruha Lakshmi (Rs. 2,000 per month for each woman who was the head of the family), Anna Bhagya (10 kg of rice per month for all the members of a BPL family), Yuva Nidhi (Rs. 3,000 to unemployed graduates and Rs. 1,500 to unemployed diploma holders aged between 18 and 25 will be paid per month for two years), and Uchita Prayana (Free travel for women in ordinary public transport buses across Karnataka). These promises were widely promoted among the public and attracted their interest.
Reportedly Congress experimented and was highly influenced by the extensive field survey reports and feedback apart from their way of swaying into the penchants of their local leaders ahead of the 2023 legislative assembly election in Karnataka. They took suggestions from the pollster and finalized their list of candidates based on his team’s review. Although the BJP’s star campaigners toured the state, along with the frequent visits of PM Modi, Amit Shah, J. P. Nadda, and other prominent BJP-RSS leaders, the BJP suffered a shocking setback during the 2023 legislative assembly election in Karnataka. The INC singlehandedly won 135 seats under the election tactics of Sunil. On 31 May 2023, he assumed the role of Chief Advisor to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, holding a position equivalent to that of a cabinet minister. Hindustan Times
Police raids at his office in Hyderabad
In November 2022, some complaints were lodged against Sunil with the Hyderabad Police for allegedly sharing derogatory posts on social media against Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, his family, and the ruling BRS government. The petition against Sunil was filed after a parody video from the Telugu classic film Mayabazar, in which the images of the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, his daughter, K. Kavitha, and his son, K. T. Rama Rao, were superimposed and was posted on the Facebook page Telangana Galam; the video went viral. K. Kavitha was the then Member of the Legislative Council who represented the Nizamabad constituency in the Telangana Legislative Council. K. T. Rama Rao was the then Minister for Information Technology, Electronics and Communications, Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Industries and Commerce. Later, the police raided Kanugolu’s office and seized various electronic devices used by his team. While speaking to the reporters after the raids, one officer stated that the derogatory posts about the CM and his family were shared from the IP address close to Kanugolu’s office.
Police arrested three staffers working at the time in the office and took them into custody; however, they were later let off. On 24 November 2022, he was charged under Sections 469 and 505(2) of the IPC and was served a notice under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Later, he submitted a petition in the Telangana High Court to nullify the FIR registered against him and also the notice issued under Section 41A of the CrPC; however, the High Court rejected his appeal on 3 January 2023 and ordered him to appear before the Hyderabad Police and assist them with the investigation process, the Court also ordered the Hyderabad Police not to use any coercive measures against him. On 9 January 2023, Sunil appeared before the police for questioning, accompanied by the Congress leader Anil Kumar Yadav. The police officials grilled him for about three hours, with Kanugolu’s statements recorded. Some reports suggested that he denied any connections with the video and gainsaid the allegations that the parody video was his creation to insult the chief minister’s family.
The pollster, while being questioned by the police, notified them that he was not personally involved with the operations at the office of Congress’ election war room in Madhapur, Hyderabad, and he worked from Delhi. Sunil notified the police that the then Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee senior vice president Mallu Ravi was in charge of the Congress’ election war room office in Madhapur, Hyderabad, and the campaigns and activities were conducted under his guidance. Media personnel were waiting for him outside the police station; however, he remained silent and avoided their questions. The Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee and the All India Congress Committee expressed their concerns over the appaling raids and chastised the ruling party’s actions. The Congress leaders alleged that the government was restraining democracy in the state. They added that the opposition parties who raised the problems of the ordinary people intensified the ruling party’s fear of losing in the upcoming polls, which made the government use its force to intimidate the opposition parties.
- In 2009, Sunil shifted from New York to Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The pollster briefly worked with the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in advance of his career as a political strategist in Indian politics.
- Some reports suggested that Sunil is very media-shy and rarely appears in the mainstream media. He has no official social media presence. They added that he prefers working as a backroom strategist over enjoying the limelight. There were some instances where some famous media houses wrongfully uploaded a picture of his brother, Sushil Kanugolu, in place of him. Although many others came forward and pointed out the mistake, no official clarification or statement was given by Kanugolu. Kanugolu’s former colleague, Leah V, shared a post on social media in May 2023 and pointed out that the picture used by many popular media was that of the pollster’s brother.
- He can speak in more than seven languages such as English, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, and Gujarati. The Quint
- Periyar, an Indian social activist and politician, profoundly influenced Sunil. Periyar, who challenged gender and caste discrimination, and fought for women’s rights in Tamil Nadu, was known as the Father of the Dravidian movement.
- Kanugolu is an ardent fan of Tamil cinema.
- According to some reports, Kanugolu was thoroughly impacted by different caste movements in the nation, everyday caste discrimination, and the use of social organizations to counter them and improve the lives of marginalized people.
- Kanugolu was associated with and held directorship in three companies, SR Independent Fisheries Pvt Ltd, SR Naturo Foods Pvt Ltd, and Brainstorm Innovation and Research Pvt Ltd (BSIR).
- The then Karnataka chief minister and BJP strongman, Basavaraj Bommai, tried to sway Sunil back into the BJP fold in 2022 when news of him joining the Congress broke out. Sunil oversaw the BJP’s election campaign in Karnataka during the 2018 legislative assembly election; however, the pollster denied the offer and reiterated his commitment to the INC.