More than two years ago, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) had invited Sunil Kanugolu to his farmhouse near Hyderabad to discuss the possibility of hiring him to handle the elections. Kanugolu had just finished working for the Tamil Nadu elections and was ready to take up his new assignment. The meeting went on for days, not going anywhere, and finally he decided not to work for KCR. A few days later, shocking everyone, Kanugolu joined the Congress as chairman of election strategy committee of the AICC and took on the same KCR.
Today, KCR must be regretting his decision not to take Kanugolu on board. Perhaps, it is one of his biggest mistakes in the last few years.
After joining the Congress, Kanugolu started working on both Telangana and Karnataka Assembly elections. Last May, he delivered his home state of Karnataka to Congress in a high decibel election, thus, proving his mettle.
He was simultaneously working on Telangana where the Congress had sunk so low, almost hitting the rock bottom. The party was spiritless and lacking any hope. The warring factions had made the situation worse.
Kanugolu took it as a challenge and told the party bosses including Rahul Gandhi that they could defeat KCR, which then sounded outlandish.
The BJP was threatening to push the Congress to third position, occupying the second place. Congress was nowhere in the game.
Working quietly, believing in his methods, Kanugolu first put the house in order. Like Karnataka, he started setting the narrative, putting KCR on back foot. An alarmed KCR took it personally and sent the police after Kanugolu. His office in Hyderabad was raided and all equipment seized. Kanugolu was even summoned by the police for questioning. An unfazed Kanugolu set up a new office and continued his work.
Today, Kanugolu is beaming with joy and KCR is down in the dumps. That’s Sunil Kanugolu for you.
It is his typical style — no airs, no media, no photos, no big talk, no hangers on, almost a recluse — Kanugolu has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the Congress, directly advising Rahul Gandhi on the matters of elections.
A man of no exuberance and show off, there is not even a trace of ego in his personality.
Telangana is his best performance so far. He was also involved in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Certainly, Karnataka was tough. But Telangana was more complicated. Realising that more vote share for the BJP will help KCR to stay in power, Kanugolu first tried to limit BJP’s influence in the state. Later, he managed to pursue YSR’s daughter YS Sharmila not to field candidates in Telangana. Sharmila, who was driven by vengeance, had vowed to humble KCR who had dared to arrest her. TDP chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu also withdrew from the contest in Telangana making Kanugolu’s job much easier. Pushing BJP to the bottom, he made it a direct fight with KCR, preventing fragmentation of the votes.
His strategy and perseverance have now paid off handsomely. Kanugolu is also credited with strategising Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Kashmir last year.
According to him, Kanugolu worked seven days a week to stop KCR in its tracks. Being a recluse has helped him immensely as he can avoid the temptation of being heard or seen in the public.
When the Telangana police called him for questioning, Kanugolu walked past the waiting media contingent unnoticed. Later, media realised that bearded, bespectacled man in rolled up sleeves and faded jeans, who entered the office smiling at them, was Kanugolu.
“It has always helped me. My style is simple. We have to win. I need no publicity and no laurels. Those who matter know who I am. I am not worried about the others,” he said. A man of principles and integrity, he can withstand any situation and always fair in his judgments.
With this emphatic win, Kanugolu has climbed the ranks of the party, making himself indispensable for the Congress.
Sunil Kanugolu, a native of Bellary in Karnataka, hails from a well-known family there. Born and brought up in Chennai, he did his higher studies from the USA and working for a global management consulting firm, McKinsey.
After returning to India, Kanugolu was involved in political strategies in Gujarat and led the Association of Billion Minds (ABM). He was also one of the key strategists for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He has handled the highly successful BJP campaign in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in early 2017.
He was associated with MK Stalin and oversaw its brilliant campaign during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in which the DMK-led alliance won 38 of the total 39 seats. After his one-time colleague Prashant Kishor of IPAC, joined the DMK camp to strategise the campaign, Kanugolu left the Stalin camp and moved to Bengaluru.
Speaking to New18, Kanugolu had expressed his desire to take a break from the routine election strategies for some time. But then Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami persuaded him to advise him on government policies and elections. With his brilliant work, EPS won 75 seats in the 2021 Assembly elections.
Last year, a leading English newspaper had carried a picture of his brother thinking that it is Kanugolu.
A man of culture, Kanugolu believes in long-lasting relationships and going the extra mile to help his friends in need. A foodie, whom his close friends jokingly call a “militant meat eater”, Kanugolu stays away from political skulduggery and lobbying for anyone.
A man of few words with a lot of experience, knowledge and achievements, Sunil Kanugolu has come a long way in just 10 years.
In a Kalvakuntla (Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhara Rao) versus Kanugolu (Sunil), the other ‘K’ has won.