Sitting against the backdrop of a wall-hanging showing Mahatma Gandhi at the charkha, Sudheendra Kulkarni, an old aide of LK Advani, peers down at his laptop in one of the makeshift rooms at 26, Tughlak Crescent — not far away from where Delhi Metro is burrowing its way to the southern outskirts of the Capital. It’s 1.20 pm, and Kulkarni is looking at survey results commissioned by the BJP on what the voters have in mind and taking notes.
In another room, an extension of the dining room of BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar, 25-year-old IIM-Kolkata graduate Harsh Vardhan Chhaparia is revising the content on the advani@campus campaign. Chhaparia is among a dozen volunteers who called in after looking up lkadvani.in. “Advani actually took my call and said I could help,” says Chhaparia. “That was a pleasant surprise. The next day I took a flight to Delhi and here I am. I thought, why not, before I took up a job with a New York-based global consulting firm.”
Malika Noorani, the 23-year-old daughter of architect Arif Noorani, too thought so. “The idea of shifting to Delhi and being alone was frightening but working on a political campaign seemed a lot more fun,” says Noorani as she scrolls down the bloggers page of the Advani website. One among a bunch of professionals working with BJP’s IT cell chief Prodyut Bora, comes in by 9 and doesn’t leave till late.
Whether it is Bhanu Chandar, 29, who shifted from Chennai after a stint with PriceWaterhouse Coopers, or Robin Rappei, 30, who moved from Coimbatore, the story is the same at the BJP’s main war room for the elections.
Kulkarni says with a laugh, “You can hardly call this a war room. Nobody here is expecting anything. But they want Advani as prime minister and think he is a better choice at this juncture. We are trying for more synergy. Yes, we do think that the BJP is winning.”
A normal day begins with Arun Jaitley, BJP general secretary, taking stock as chief strategist. Besides Kukarni, Piyush Goyal, Deepak Chopra (a close aide of Advani), Swapan Dasgupta, Sidharth Nath Singh (the new BJP spokesperson), Nalin Kohli and Shrikant Sharma (from the party’s media cell) chalk out the day’s plan. By evening, they meet again to see what they have done. Chopra reports to Advani and also coordinates the tour for the BJP’s PM-in-waiting.
Kohli and Sharma track what newspapers and TV channels are saying, while Singh coordinates with advertising agencies writing radio jingles and readying TV films on Advani. Jaitley directs ‘course correction’ wherever necessary, whether it is a radio tune, a slogan or the focus of a film.
In some meetings, Jaitley is joined by Ram Lal, BJP general secretary who handles the party setup, and sends off instructions to state units. Being from the RSS, his word is supposedly gospel.
In fact, the BJP does not have a single war room. For instance, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, who does surveys for the BJP, feeds the party with inputs. But 26, Tughlak Crescent serves as the ‘brain’ of the campaign — where policies, strategy and also the website campaign are handled.
There’s another war room, called the ‘control room’, at the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road where Amitabh Sinha and Murlidhar Rao handle the actual campaign logistics. Eight fixed wing aircraft and 12 helicopters are on standby. “It’s the execution room. My task is to collate what BJP offices in the states want, book and plan out rallies of top BJP leaders and implement and monitor all action plans,” Sinha says. He dispatches “talking points” to all 300-odd candidates who are in touch with him, as well as state BJP leaders. Sinha’s task is beefed up by eight groups of BJP functionaries who have, between them, set up region-wise desks.
In fact, there is one more war room — in Venkaiah Naidu’s house where the party’s manifesto is under work. “But, the real war room is in Advani’s Prithviraj Road residence where the core group of senior leaders periodically review every strategy, campaign and alliance,” says a BJP functionary. “Advani wants to know what’s happening on every front.”