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The Congress war room for Punjab assembly polls: Who’s in it?

Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, for a change, has shed the coterie, at least in picture frames, and the royal tag. Though3 he is still called the “maharaja” by his team, now, it is pure strategy that rules the Captain war room. Amarinder cannot afford to pack it with just his loyalists. So, there is a Asha Kumari, who is the interface with Delhi, and a Prashant Kishor, who has Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s ear. But the brief is clear to all in the war room — the Congress needs to redeem itself in Punjab after party’s two back-to-back defeats, Amarinder should go down a winner.

punjab Updated: Nov 25, 2016 18:24 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Congress

Strategy over royalty

Captain Amarinder Singh, 74

Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh (HT File Photo)

Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, for a change, has shed the coterie, at least in picture frames, and the royal tag. Though he is still called the “maharaja” by his team, now, it is pure strategy that rules the Captain war room. Amarinder cannot afford to pack it with just his loyalists. So, there is a Asha Kumari, who is the interface with Delhi, and a Prashant Kishor, who has Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s ear. But the brief is clear to all in the war room — the Congress needs to redeem itself in Punjab after party’s two back-to-back defeats, Amarinder should go down a winner.

The Rook

Prashant Kishor, 39

Prashant Kishor (HT File Photo)

Prashant Kishor is the rook in the game of political chess as he can access all squares of the board. Though the relations of party’s poll strategist and Amarinder got off to a bumpy start, their “love-hate” relationship continues owing to their common goal—Prashant needs to win Punjab to maintain his winning streak and Amarinder needs one to resurrect himself. Kishor creates a theory and repeats it till it becomes a reality. Example? He would say AAP was peaking at the wrong time and it did.

The Bishop

Nirvan Singh, 27

Nirvan Singh (HT Photo)

He is the last but not the least important piece of the board. As Amarinder’s own ‘one family, one ticket’ rule will keep wives and sons out of the contest, his grandson, Nirvan Singh, is quietly learning the ropes. Though a reluctant politician, the suave Nirvan is handling the social media of Amarinder, tweeting and posting comments on Facebook to engage young voters. He has made his grandfather learn the social media warfare.

The Queen

Asha Kumari, 61

Asha Kumari (HT Photo)

Brought in to do the “balancing act” among Congress warring factions, Asha Kumari as party’s general secretary in-charge of Punjab, has made the defunct beat look almost glamourous. A royal like Amarinder, she is by Amarinder’s side and ensures the coterie stays out of frame. She says her job is to ensure all the wheels of the campaign machine are well-oiled and those “hired” are doing their job. She belongs to the old school, who believe politicians, not strategists, win elections.

THE KNIGHTS

The old-fox of Punjab politics

Lal Singh, 75

Some are for old times sake. A six-time MLA and former minister, Lal Singh, wields his power in the war room as the senior vice-president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and an astute politician, who can humour people and needs to be kept in good humour. So, details on almost everything in Congress office — from campaign and candidates are routed through him. He is party’s turn-to guy on tricky situations and like a knight in a game of chess, he can jump over other pieces.

Media strategist

Raveen Thukral, 52

Media to manage the media. In the game of wits among Punjab politicians, some of the smart punchlines are coming from journalists running their media cells. Amarinder now also has a media strategist in veteran journalist Raveen Thukral. Someone who understands Punjab’s political pulse, Thukral is dishing out press releases to ensure the party beats political rivals in war for media space. For those journalists who complained Amarinder does not take calls, Raveen is quick to offer “juicy sound bites”. Raveen claims he has brought a “suave aggression” to the war room.

The backroom boy

Captain Sandeep Sandhu, 47

Captain Sandeep Sandhu (HT Photo)

The only part of Amarinder’s old coterie who is part of the new war room. Sandeep Sandhu, a former merchant Navy captain, is the logistics man of the party. As the general secretary in-charge of the Congress office, he is party’s interface with Kishor’s team I-PAC, AICC and district leaders of the party. He is Amarinder’s ear to the ground and store house of all information — from candidates, elections to campaign details. He also ensures that no information leaks out. In jest, he is referred to as “Chotta Captain” by Captain’s friends and foes.