By Kalyani Shankar
Funding is very important for a political party and more so for a party not in power. The Congress party is going through a severe financial crunch and has sent out SOS to its chief ministers. In recent meetings with the office bearers this was one the subjects raised. The upcoming state assembly elections in Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry have increased the party’s pressure. Unfortunately for the Grand Old Party, it is ruling only in Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh only. The Congress just lost Puducherry on February 22 after the Chief Minister resigned following defection of party legislators.
The Grand Old Party, which has been in power for 56 of the 73 years since Independence, faces an unprecedented fund crisis for various reasons. The party has received far fewer funds in the past six years because of a perception it is unlikely to resume its primacy. Secondly, the BJP has overtaken Congress since 2014.
Thirdly it is facing a leadership crisis. Fourthly, the regional parties also are vying for the donations. Fifthly, any party’s funding from private donors depends on its public trust. Earlier the Congress had fund managers in each state. But this system has collapsed now due to the central control for everything.
Why does a party need funds? It is to run the state units, headquarters, salaries to the staff, election challenges, build a new party office, etc. In 2018, it had reached a bottom, with the party launching a 40-day booth committee fundraising program in October and appealing for funds. The Congress resorted to crowd funds appealing, “The Congress needs your support and help. Help us restore the democracy which India has proudly embraced since 70 years by making a small contribution.” The most popular methods are Individual and corporate funding.
The Congress Party was once a mass-based party but since 2014 it has lost state after state, and because of this, its coffers’ became empty. The BJP’s phenomenal rise in capturing more than 90% of the total corporate donations is closely connected to Congress’s sharp deceleration. The BJP for long has been occupying a pole position in tapping corporate contributions, even when the Congress party was in power.
In recent years, the Modi government has introduced three significant changes in political funding in India. Firstly, political parties can now receive foreign funds. Secondly, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party. Thirdly, any individual, group of people or company can donate money anonymously to any party through the electoral bond. Electoral bonds have been available since January 2018; the gap in corporate donations between the BJP and the Congress is growing wider. Whatever be the reason, such a significant gap in political contributions between the ruling party and the principal opposition party is not good for democracy.
The Congress party received a sum of Rs 139 crores as donations during 2019-2020, according to an Election Commission’s contributions report. The party is still the second most prosperous party but far behind the BJP. According to party constitution, the law makers apart from workers are supposed to pay one per cent of their income to the party but this does not happen. The party needs to encourage its members to donate more and emulate Congress leader Kapil Sibal. In 2020, Kapil Sibal who was the highest individual donor had given Rs 3 crores to the party fund while former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contributed Rs 1,08,000. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul donated Rs 50,000 and Rs 54,000 respectively between April 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020. The Congress also received Rs 19 crores from ITC and its associate companies, while Prudent Electoral Trust contributed Rs 31 crore.
A political party may acquire funds such as donations by people during rallies, relief funds, the sale of coupons, and other miscellaneous allocation. If the election expenses are reduced there is no need for the party to collect huge funds.
The Election Commission has a long list of suggestions, including decriminalization of politics, reforms of political parties, auditing of accounts of parties, checking black money in polls, making “paid news” an electoral offense, and punishment for false affidavit by candidates and capping of anonymous donations to 20 percent.
Several panels have recommended poll reforms – including Goswami Committee (1990), Vohra Committee (1993), and Law Commission
One of the suggestions was state funding.
The need of the hour is electoral reforms and is time to push through these reforms to cleanse the electoral system so that money power becomes less. What is needed is political will and consensus on reforms. (IPA Service)