Hours after polling ended in Punjab, the Congress party broke into a celebration at its election ‘war room’ at a quiet corner in Mohali.
Here a motley bunch of young IITians and graduates from foreign universities spent the day glued to their laptops, a huge LCD screen and mobile phones to track the pulse of the elections minute-by-minute, both on the ground and on social media.
The ‘war room’ set up by party strategist Prashant Kishor was the nerve centre of Congress’s campaign in the state.
Relishing a bite of the sweet dish Gulab Jamun, Rishi Raj Singh, one of I-PAC co-founders and directors, claimed “angry” tweets from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal served as an early indication that it was “advantage” Congress.
The Delhi CM had taken to Twitter to express his anger over malfunctioning of EVMs, differences in voting time in Goa (7 am to 5 pm) and Punjab (8 am to 5 pm) and accused the Election Commission of “surrendering completely” to the Narendra Modi government.
The social media-savvy party had put just two posts on its official Facebook page.
“Have you seen the Twitter handle of Kejriwal and AAP since morning?” is how Rishi started the conversation, adding that be it a snag in EVMs or differences in voting time, it was same for all parties.
“But it was only Kejriwal and his party leaders who were venting their anger. It shows which way the winds were blowing,” he added.
But are tweets a barometer for early celebrations? Rishi said social media only confirmed the reports they were getting from the ground.
“We had nearly 1200 volunteers and Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) team members reporting straight from the booths of the state’s 117 assembly constituencies,” he said.
“Another 500 were positioned at district headquarters feeding us live updates. We have done better than our initial calculations. We are sweeping Majha, winning Doaba and getting more than half the seats in Malwa,” he added.
As per party’s post-poll calculations, it is winning 38 of Malwa’s 69 seats, 18 in Majha and around 12 in Doaba.
The I-PAC, whom Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh dubs as his “astrologers”, may have gauged public mood much like exit polls, but Rishi claims stalls of parties outside polling booths reveal the trend.
“We had more people coming to Congress stalls in most of the booths. That itself indicates a lot,” he said.
The ground work at the war room had started at least 11 months ago. Like Rishi, an alumnus of IIT-Kanpur, who has been in Punjab since last 11 months, his well-oiled poll machine has been working in each assembly seat, with local Congress leaders and workers.
They were meeting those who influence public opinion such as school principals, teachers, doctors, media personnel, college professors and government officials for feedbacks.
It was also doing some ‘social listening’ by joining conversations in paan shops, tea shops and eateries to know the public mood.
Unlike the Bihar war room, they had set up in 2015, which had huge posters of Nitish Kumar, the centre in Mohali depicted Punjab’s poll scene through cartoons.
Formerly part of Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) that did campaigning for BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kishor and his group floated I-PAC before Bihar assembly elections and scripted Nitish Kumar’s victory.
Kishor is now hoping for a hat-trick in Punjab.
If he fails to deliver, it will be a hat-trick of different kind-- Congress and its state chief Captain Amarinder Singh losing Punjab in three back-to-back polls.
For more stories on the Punjab assembly elections, click here.