Royalty is back in the Punjab Congress albeit in an austerity mode. The party’s coffers are empty and the newly anointed state chief, Captain Amarinder Singh, a former Patiala royal, is yet to find a “treasurer”.
In common parlance, the term would mean someone who manages the treasury. In case of the Congress in Punjab, he is also someone worthy enough to foot bills for running the office and other party affairs.
With its government neither at the Centre nor in most states, the funds-starved Congress had in February this year made it mandatory for each member to contribute `250 per year to the party fund, over and above the membership fee of `5. The depleted reservoirs of the party usually fill up during elections, partly through calling of tickets — ticket-seekers have to pay an application fee — but mainly through donations from corporates. But the latter made a beeline for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The party legislators, too, have to pitch in a month’s salary every year, but several have failed to do so this year and some even in the previous years. They will have to pay their contribution before the 2017 elections as every ticket-seeker MLA needs to clear all dues of party and state assembly before he is allotted a ticket, Congress sources said.
In times like these, an added, if not mandatory, qualification for any state president of the party is to have wherewithal (read funds) to run the party or at least a worthy treasurer. Outgoing state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa had MLA Amrik Dhillon’s son Kamaljeet Singh as his “treasurer” and Amarinder had businessman-turned-politician-turned-businessman Arvind Khanna to manage the money matters. Now that Khanna has quit politics, leave alone the party, the hunt is on for the new benefactor.
Though it helps the Amarinder camp that some of the most affluent MLAs are his loyalists — including the state’s richest MLA as per poll affidavit, Kewal Dhillon, and sugar baron Rana Gurjit Singh — the “maharaja” intends to maintain a low-profile after the Bathinda coronation rally, which is a result of his accepting Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal’s dare to hold one in his bastion.
According to party insiders, the Congress will only hold the customary political conferences during Maghi, Chappar and other melas, but Amarinder’s strategy for the one year before polls would be to meet youth, students, intelligentsia, farmers and traders personally.
As for the treasury, Amarinder is also likely to ensure that the election funds, when they come, are handled in a way that murmurs of “misuse or siphoning” of funds within the party and openly by leaders such as former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, do not surface again.