Rickshaw pullers to non-resident Indians (NRIs) are among the swell of people who have donated more than Rs. 7 crore to the AAP coffers in just 50 days to fight the coming Lok Sabha election even as the party membership surges to an impressive 10 million.
A large part of this has come from countries such as the US, the United Arab Emirates and Britain — home to a large number of Indians and people of Indian origin who keenly follow Indian politics. Contributions from within India of course top the list with Rs. 5.7 crore, followed by the US (Rs 62 lakh), Bipul Dey, an Aam Aadmi Party volunteer who looks after its finances, said.
Then comes the UAE (Rs 25 lakh), Singapore (Rs 19 lakh), Britain (Rs 14 lakh) and Canada (Rs 6 lakh). By January 30, the party collected over Rs. 7 crore. The party had started the drive on December 12.
Dey, who looks after donations, said the highest contribution of Rs. 2 crore was given by Shanti Bhushan, a former law minister and an eminent lawyer. Bhushan has been in the party since its inception and is father of lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is a member of the AAP's national executive.
Dey said the senior Bhushan donated Rs. 1 crore when the AAP was formed in November 2012 and another Rs. 1 crore around a week ago.
NRIs were enthusiastic donors, Dey, who sits in the party's Hanuman Road office said. Most pay online — a preferred mode even for many Indians.
"They (NRIs) donate in large numbers," he said, adding the party did not have precise statistics. He said foreign contributions are mostly being made online.
According to Dey, a renewed donation drive began on December 12, four days after the one-year-old AAP posted a stunning performance in the Delhi elections, bagging 28 of the 70 seats. As it became clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be able to form a government despite winning 31 seats, monetary support to the AAP — which took office Dec 28 — began to steadily climb.
"For the Delhi election, we had put a cap on the collection at Rs. 20 crore. We stopped taking money on November 17 when the collection touched Rs. 20 crore," Dey said.
As 2014 dawned, the AAP hit upon a novel idea — soliciting Rs. 2,014 each from donors. Hundreds responded in India and beyond. The only Indian party to make public the names of donors and the amounts they give, the AAP does not say 'no' to any sum. Contributions of even Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 are accepted.
The party is determined to contest around 350 Lok Sabha seats. Party sources admit that this would entail a massive expenditure - and fund collection was now a major priority.
Another AAP volunteer said even labourers, auto-rickshaw drivers and rickshaw pullers contribute.
"Many have given us anything between Rs. 5 and Rs. 100. Such amounts are taken over the counter and receipts with the party stamp is issued. But if the amount is more than Rs. 500, then we ask for cheques," the volunteer, associated with finance but who did not wish to be identified, said.
"We give receipts for each and every contribution. If anybody post cheques or demand draft, then the, party sends the receipt thorough the same method," he added.
If a donor wants to give more than Rs. 10 lakh, then the person needs to get the approval of the party's Political Affairs Committee, the volunteer added.
The central government has, however, sought details of money secured by the AAP from abroad. It has told a court in Delhi that the party was not cooperating.
The AAP, whose election performance in Delhi has generated a lot of admiration nationwide, is also engaged in a massive membership drive that could go on until the Lok Sabha polls expected in April-May. AAP leaders say they now have an estimated 10 million members. They are divided into two categories: ordinary and active. It is the latter who run the party.