As Rahul Gandhi slowly but steadily expands his role in party affairs, two bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi have gained significance as the nerve centres of the new-age Congress: Gandhi’s residence-cum-office at 12, Tughlaq Lane and the party’s ‘war room’ at 15, Gurdwara Rakabganj Road.
The Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road retains its gravitas as the party’s nerve centre. It’s the venue for meetings of the Congress Working Committee besides housing the work stations of AICC office-bearers. But it’s at the other two bungalows — fitted with audio-video conferencing facilities and other electronic gadgetry — where strategy is planned and instructions sent out for execution on the ground during elections and other big occasions.
Gandhi meets key visitors, party functionaries and even aam aadmi (through his weekly jandarshan programme) at his office. His war room meetings are mostly confined to select leaders. If in Delhi, Gandhi invariably has a long list of daily engagements in his office. His visits to war room, however, are need-based. Like, last week he attended an hour-long meeting there with key aides and associates.
Appointments at 12, Tughlaq Lane are strictly through written intimations. In the 15, GRG Road war room, informal meetings are as frequent. Such is the premium on secrecy that the war room team has not seen any new recruit for the past three years.
Both bungalows have small reception counters, ample parking space, visitors’ rooms and conference facilities. The war room also has a make-shift auditorium and nice, clean toilets. Although there are lawns in both bungalows, party meetings are invariably held indoors. At least on one occasion, Rahul met a select group of journalists on the lawns.
Audio-visual presentations are quite common at both places. After Gandhi took over as a general secretary, he encouraged power point presentations and crisp, bullet point brochures.
The frequency of strategy-sessions is believed to have increased in the past few months in the war room that includes sessions with professional agencies involved with Congress' campaign like Perfect Relations, JWT, Percept communications and IPAN.
In 2004, the party used 99 South Avenue that housed its research wing as the makeshift war room. But the flat was small, forcing Congress managers to look for spacious accommodation. Consequently, the party shifted its war room to GRG Road.
"No discussions take place on government issues or policies at the war room. It is purely for party affairs. Rahul is deeply involved in war room strategies," said a member of his think tank. The meetings lately have been focused on the 2014 polls and 13 states elections the Congress is to face before the Lok Sabha polls.
An early riser, Rahul reportedly doesn't encourage all-night meetings. Other leaders, however, engage in late-night strategy sessions.
Rahul has reportedly formed several informal groups to look into different aspects of the party and its poll strategy and they frequently hold brainstorming sessions at the war room. Leaders like Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, general secretary Digvijaya Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Oscar Fernandes, treasurer Motilal Vora, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and young turks like Ashok Tanwar are seen as key participants in these groups. Tanwar (36) is a former Youth Congress president and currently Lok Sabha MP from Sirsa.
A surprise inclusion in these discussions is Madhusudan Mistry-the party general secretary-currently seen as a hot favourite of RG. Tanwar also has been given special assignment in poll-bound Gujarat. Kanishka Singh, Gandhi's key aide accompanies his boss to all these meetings. He also provides inputs and takes notes.
In one of the meetings, the plan for building the new party office in Central Delhi was discussed. Construction giant Shapoorji Pallonji may build the new Congress office. While Rahul's house is heavily guarded by SPG, the war room is managed by private security guards and party workers. When Rahul comes, however, additional security is provided by government agencies. In the war room meetings, refreshments are usually brought from outside.