K for Karnataka and Kanungolu: Meet the inclusive election strategist who ensured victory for the Congress

Two months ago, dozens of Congress ticket aspirants waited in the lobby of Bengaluru’s famous, 150-year-old Taj West End hotel to lobby for their assembly tickets. AICC general secretary in-charge of Karnataka Randeep Singh Surjewala was staying there.

A bespectacled, bearded man in his early 40s, hair disheveled and arms outstretched, parked his old car and, without attracting the attention of waiting people, careened through the hotel lobby to meet Surjewala Gone from It was Sunil Kanungolu, the chief election strategist of the Congress, who was going to decide his fate.

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This is his style. No airs, no media, no photos, no big talk, no hanger-on, almost a recluse, Kanungolu has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the Congress, reporting directly to AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi on election matters. gives advice.

On Saturday, after the Congress’ victory in the all-important state of Karnataka, Kanugolu held back his emotions and received the congratulatory message with a polite ‘thank you’ nod. There was not even a trace of arrogance.

It was his best performance since he switched from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Congress last year, jolting the saffron party’s leadership in New Delhi. He even joined the Congress as the head of the strategy department, starting his work from his home state of Karnataka. He had to win this election to silence his opponents and play a bigger role in the days to come.


When Kanungolu joined the Congress, election preparations were underway, but it was directionless, with different factions fighting for a larger cause. With the full support of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, he took charge of the elections and assembled a team of election experts to oust the BJP government in Karnataka.

Concerned Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who is personally indebted to Kanungolu, tried his best to bring him back into the BJP fold. But he declined the request and made it clear that he believed in the ideology of the Congress.

He is also credited with strategizing Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

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He brought together the two factions led by Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar to present a unified vision for the Karnataka Congress.

‘Worked 20 hours a day, 7 days a week to stop BJP’

According to him, he worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week to stop the BJP in its tracks. Being a recluse helped him greatly, as he could avoid the temptation to be heard or seen in public.

“It has always helped me. My style is simple. We have to win. I don’t need any publicity or accolades. All that matters is they know who I am. I am not worried about others,” he said.

A man of principles and integrity, he can face any situation and is known to be fair in his judgement.

With this resounding victory, Kanungolu has climbed up the ranks in the party and will play a big role in the Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections due in winter this year.

If he wins some of them, he will go into the parliamentary elections with a powerful strategy to counter the Modi-centric BJP.

native of Bellary

Kanungolu is a native of Bellary, Karnataka. He belongs to a renowned family there. Born and brought up in Chennai, he did his higher education from USA and was with McKinsey, a global management consulting firm.

After returning to India, he became involved in political strategies in Gujarat and led the Association of Billion Minds (ABM). He was one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key strategists in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Kanungolu handled the hugely successful BJP campaign in the UP assembly elections in early 2017.

He was associated with MK Stalin and oversaw its ‘Namakku Naam’ (we are for ourselves) campaign during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The DMK-led coalition won 38 of the total 39 parliament seats in that election.

After his one-time colleague Prashant Kishor from IPAC joined the DMK camp to strategize the campaign, he left the Stalin camp and moved to Bengaluru.

Talking to News18, Kanungolu expressed his desire to take a break from routine election strategies for some time. But, the then TN CM EPS persuaded him to advise the government on policies and elections. With his work, EPS was able to win 75 seats in the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.

stair climbing

Kanungolu, an introvert, listens more and speaks less. A sharp planner and executor, he is ruthless when it comes to work.

Last year a leading English newspaper published a picture of his brother, thinking it was Kanungolu!

A cultured person, he believes in long lasting relationships and goes the extra mile to help his friends when they are in need. A foodie, whom his close friends jokingly call a “terrorist meat eater”, Kanungolu enjoys carefree evenings with them. He also stays away from political hypocrisy and lobbying for anyone. The soft spoken Kanungolu with lots of experience, knowledge and achievements has come a long way in just 10 years.

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During the elections, the most common K factors were mentioned in Kittur and Kalyan Karnataka. However, the lesser known Kanungolu is the one who helped the Congress to regain Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru.