Poll debacles have not been the only worry of the Congress. Its coffers have also suffered a collateral damage.
Yet, it remains splurge-happy. Outnumbered by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Maghi rally in January, the party tried to lure more people to its rally at Talwandi Sabo in April with some take-home goodies besides a hearty lunch.
At the ‘Coffee with Captain ’ events managed by poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s team, IPAC, each youth participant carried home a bag containing a notepad, pen, cap and T-shirt with ‘Punjab Da Captain’ written on it . Now as Amarinder launches his next round of coffee, this time with ex-servicemen, who have a substantial presence in Punjab, the party has arranged mobile stickers and caps for each of the 2,000 invitees expected to attend the event at Pathankot on June 8.
The Congress plans to have 80 more such events with different sections of society such as farmers, traders, teachers and women in the run-up to the 2017 polls.
This when the party, by its own admission, is facing a major financial crunch. A string of defeats in states following the the Lok Sabha polls has left its coffers empty as donations from corporate houses have dried up and its membership drives aren’t getting new members. In Punjab, a long spell of being out of power has left its rallies at the mercy of well-off Congress MLAs and leaders, who too are not happy pitching in from their pockets. Much to its dismay, not only has the tally of “rich” MLAs in Punjab gone down after defections and a series of bypolls, even its 42 MLAs have still to comply by the fiat of paying a month’s salary to the party kitty.
As per information obtained from the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee Congress office, in the last four years, none of the MLAs have paid a month’s salary as contribution to the party treasury. But it is not a pressing concern. Going by the tradition, they have to clear their dues before they apply for a party ticket. “All MLAs will clear their dues before the elections,” says PPCC senior vice-president Lal Singh.
‘Basic salary of MLA just Rs 25,000’
But Congress MLAs question if party’s financial needs can be met with a paltry Rs 25,000 monthly basic salary that they draw. “Our pay becomes respectable only after including free travel and other allowances. Even the Election Commission now admits money is driving elections in our country. Punjab is heading for a costliest election in 2017 when crores of rupees will be spent on each constituency by every party,” said a MLA requesting anonymity.
Even party treasurer Moti Lal Vora’s diktat of hiking party member’s annual contribution to Rs 250 has met with resistance. Members still pay Rs 5 annually as fee during membership drives. Extended last year, the party is clueless on membership drive figures and claims the last membership drive had fetched 30 lakh members in Punjab. Each officebearer of the jumbo-sized PPCC too is expected to shell out `300 annually and none has.
But the financial woes have not dampened the party’s spending in the run-up to polls. According to IPAC, “collaterals” such as keychains, t-shirts and caps are going to be a part of all major party campaigns. The tents, lighting and catering for all ‘Coffee with Captain’ events are being handled by an event management company, learnt to have a tie-up with Kishor’s IPAC, which now has a 140-member team in Punjab that will be scaled up to 1,500 before polls. But the bills being raised are not Amarinder’s worry.
“The All India Congress Committee is taking care of the poll expenses, including IPAC bills,” he says. As for Kishor, he says he draws no salary for his consultancy and he gets his due if he wins the election!