AAP battles major financial crunch (Election Special)
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the country's youngest political formation, is battling a severe financial crunch even as it contests its first parliamentary election.
AAP leaders and activists frankly admit that they are feeling cash-strapped after having already fielded 444 candidates all over the country in staggered elections beginning Monday.
AAP, founded in November 2012, had spent some Rs.20 crore on contesting the Delhi assembly polls in which it won a staggering 28 seats and formed a minority government that lasted 49 days.
But the party now realizes that the Lok Sabha election is a vastly different game.
"Yes, we are facing a severe money crunch," party leader and Delhi's former transport minister Saurabh Bharadwaj told IANS. "So much so that we are struggling on the financial front."
The Election Commission's decision to raise the cap on expenditure by every candidate to Rs.70 lakh in a Lok Sabha election is viewed as a joke in AAP -- because its candidates can't spend even half the amount.
For instance, AAP's New Delhi candidate, Ashish Khetan, has so far spent only around Rs.15 lakh on campaigning. Campaigning in Delhi will end Tuesday evening.
This, party leaders say, is in sharp contrast to the money lavishly spent by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.
And unlike in the case of the BJP and the Congress, AAP is finding it difficult to put up even stray large hoardings in a city which is its hub and where it has thousands of supporters.
In the process, barring rare exceptions, the Lok Sabha candidates across the country have been left to fend for themselves.
Since Dec 12, when AAP began raising money for the impending Lok Sabha battle, it has raised nearly Rs.22 crore from donations, small and big, from within the country and abroad.
AAP leaders, including former Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, the party's best known face, have held fund raising dinners.
In desperation, the party has said it is willing to go to people's houses to collect donation.
Whatever money is collected, in cash or online, is meticulously accounted for -- making the cash crunch all the more visible.
Despite having ruled Delhi for 49 days, AAP advertisements are not seen in print and electronic media. There are no hoardings on the streets - or in Delhi Metro trains.
The party is banking on Kejriwal's charisma, house-to-house visits as well as cheaply produced pamphlets which are distributed on the streets to reach out to voters.
While Kejriwal and other leaders occasionally take flights to travel long distances, the train is the preferred mode of travel in AAP.
With no central funding for candidates, each contestant is expected to take care of his or her campaign expenditure.
They have to pay for the party's trademark white caps with its election symbol 'broom' printed on them.
"Some of our supporters just don't have any money. So others spend on them during campaign," a candidate told IANS.
"After all, it is only fair that volunteers who spend so much time and energy on us should be fed and taken care of."
In Mumbai, AAP has reached out to small and medium enterprises for funds -- and met with some success.
"But despite the financial crunch, good and honest people all over the country continue to reach out to us," Bharadwaj said. "This is the silver lining."
(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 06-04-2014)