Depleting cash, falling popularity put Congress on a nationwide door-to-door campaign for money and support ahead of key polls
According to a report of the Association of Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch on donations received (above Rs 20,000) by national political parties in FY 2016-17, Congress received a much lesser amount than the BJP.
The full impact of losing elections in state after state in the past few years, including the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is now visible on the Congress party’s coffers.
Once the largest party of the country, Congress is now facing an embarrassing fund crunch in a crucial election year -- to the extent that it is going public with a nationwide fundraising programme.
Named as ‘Mission Rs 500 crore’, the cash-starved Congress will kick-start the programme on 2 October, when the nation will engage in a two-year-long celebration across the country and all over the globe to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
The newly appointed treasurer of Congress, Ahmed Patel has instructed the state and district units of the party along with the frontal organisations to get actively into the mass campaign for fund collection from 2 October. The campaign will conclude on the birth anniversary of former prime minister Indira Gandhi on 19 November.
“A decision was taken in a meeting a fortnight ago to raise funds for the party ahead of elections. It’s for the first time that the Congress is going public for funds on such a large scale. The reason is obviously the shortage of funds in the party to contest elections this year, including the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Our party treasurer Ahmed Patel has communicated it to all committees in the states, districts, frontal organisations and various departments and cells of the Congress party,” a senior Congress leader told Firstpost.
“Besides reaching out for funds, the Congress party workers will visit every booth and discuss with the public state and national issues ahead of elections,” the senior leader said.
Keeping forthcoming elections in mind, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Ashok Gehlot in an official communique to AICC, PCC, DCC, frontal organisations, departments and cells of the party on 1 September had asked the heads and top office bearers of respective bodies for a detailed action plan in order to formulate a strategy at national level. Sourcing and utilisation of funds were two of the key areas of discussion in the follow-up meeting.
Why fund crunch?
According to a Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh, who didn’t want to be named, the fund crunch in the party has been due to the electoral losses it faced over the years.
The Congress faced a major loss in 2014 Lok Sabha election and consecutive state Assembly elections.
“Besides the annual membership fee which is a minuscule amount, the MPs and MLAs also contribute funds to the party. It has declined drastically. The donations and corporate contribution have also reduced in comparison to the past. Contributors would like to go with the party in power like BJP, which is financially in a much stronger position. Now we’ll go to the public with issues and try to win back the trust they had in Congress earlier,” the MLA said.
An internal report of the party highlighted that Congress would need Rs 1,000 crore for election campaigning along with other expenses during the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram by the year-end.
Besides Assembly elections this year, Congress shall have to engage in a nationwide campaign ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha election, which requires major funding.
A decline in donations, especially from corporate houses after 2014, has added to the woes. According to a report of the Association of Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch on donations received (above Rs 20,000) by national political parties in FY 2016-17, Congress received a much lesser amount than the BJP.
While the BJP in FY 2016-17 received Rs 532.27 crore, the Congress got Rs 41.90 crore. The report further mentioned that in comparison to FY 2015-16, there was a rise of 593 percent in donations received by the BJP in FY 2016-17, whereas Congress received 105 percent more amount. BJP received Rs 76.85 crore and Congress Rs 20.42 crore in 2015-16.
As donations from business houses while the BJP got Rs 515.43 crore in 2016-17, the Congress received Rs 36.06 crore.
The Congress party has been facing the heat of fund crunch for quite some time. One may recall, the party’s general secretary and Madhya Pradesh in-charge, Deepak Babaria, had created a flutter within the party by suggesting an application fee for candidates for the Assembly election in the state to be held later this year.
In a meeting with party workers in Jabalpur in February this year, Babaria said that contestants seeking a ticket should deposit Rs 50,000 as an application fee. This would be deposited in the party fund and will be used for campaigning.
With an aim to collect Rs 500 crore, the party has fixed a minimum target for each booth committee at Rs 5,000. There are a total of 10 lakh booths. It has been decided by the party that Congress workers will visit every booth and discuss with the public on the state and national issues, besides taking donations. A door-to-door collection by booth workers will also be carried out with anyone contributing any amount from Rs 5 onwards. The party hopes that besides bringing some respite to its stressed coffers, the exercise will also strengthen grassroots connectivity of the party.
“We’ve already started ‘Soch-se-Soch ki ladai’ campaign along with membership drive named ‘Yuva Shakti’ across the country. We’re doing small programmes to connect with the youth and engage in discussions on state and national issues. Besides the support from the party, we’ll get our resources,” president of Indian Youth Congress, Keshav Chand Yadav said.
While Ashok Gehlot has indicated he will contest the upcoming Congress presidential polls, he has made it clear yet again that he is unwilling to give up the post of Rajasthan chief minister to his former deputy and bitter rival Sachin Pilot
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor got the nod from Sonia Gandhi to run for party president. Though the interim chief told the Thiruvananthapuram MP she was in favour of ‘free and fair’ elections, insiders say groundwork is being laid for Rahul Gandhi’s return to the top post
The rebellion in Rajasthan has not worked in favour of Ashok Gehlot. He is out of the race for Congress chief and finds himself distanced from the Gandhis. For now, the party is not mulling any action against him and he is likely to continue as Rajasthan chief minister