There are many similarities between Kanhaiya Kumar and Raju Yadav. Both of them belong to the Communist parties and both are contesting the Lok Sabha election from the state of Bihar to stop the BJP from coming to power again – one from Begusarai and another from Arrah. But a close look at the money they have raised to fight the election tells us a lot about how India’s intellectual and economic elite respond to politics.
Kanhaiya is the Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate from Begusarai – it is a triangular contest with BJP leader and union minister Giriraj Singh and gathbandhan candidate Tanveer Hassan also in the fray.
Raju Yadav is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) candidate from Arrah, and is supported by non-NDA parties, including the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the CPI among others.
Both of them claim to come from a humble background. Both had set a target to generate Rs 70 lakh for their election campaign on the same crowdfunding platform called ‘Our Democracy’. Kanhaiya Kumar raised Rs 70 lakh in just seven days, but Raju Yadav has raised a mere Rs 1.17 lakh at the time of writing this article. The highest donation that Raju Yadav has received is Rs 10,000. The top donor in the case of Kanhaiya contributed Rs 5 lakh.
What explains this stark contrast between the fund-raising abilities of these two candidates? Or, is it more about fund-raising networks rather than capabilities?
The funding campaign for Raju Yadav, the CPI(ML) candidate, says that he comes from a poor peasant family and that his father was a soldier in the Army. Kanhaiya Kumar, son of an Anganwadi worker, also talks about resource crunch as he fights the election. Both speak Hindi and are nowhere closer to being called power elites, as explained by C. Wright Mills.
On the surface, crowdfunding seems to be a value-neutral platform, where people contribute money based on their perception of the cause and the candidate’s personality. So, what makes Kanhaiya’s campaign so powerful? And why has Raju Yadav’s campaign failed to take off?
The success or the failure of crowdfunding, as described by a veteran in this field who does not want to be named, depends on the social capital one has or doesn’t have. In crowdfunding campaigns, this social capital translates into cash flow. Social capital is a term popularised by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. He defines social capital as “a capital of social relationships which will provide, if necessary, useful supports”.
The social capital can be further explained as “actual or virtual resources acquired by individuals or groups through the possession of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”.
Or in simplistic terms, it can be explained as who all do you know, who knows you and who they are. Social capital is a lubricant that “facilitates getting things done”. It is an important source of power and influence and in the case of Kanhaiya, we can see that it can be encashed.
With this framework in mind if we compare Kanhaiya Kumar with Raju Yadav, we notice that:
1. Kanhaiya is a big social media influencer and that may or may not win him the election. But, with a strong presence on social media, he can generate a buzz and that too without much effort and with almost no expenditure. His videos are extremely popular on Facebook and YouTube and garner millions of views. An old hand in crowdfunding explains that the campaigns reach out to the target donors mostly through these social media platforms.
Raju Yadav has a Facebook profile and a page was recently created for him, but he is a laggard in this field, with just 6,400 followers. Kanhaiya Kumar’s page has 4.6 lakh followers. This, however, does not mean in any way that Raju Yadav will lose the election because of his meek presence on social media. The matrix for winning or losing an election has a number of factors and social media presence is only one of them. Still, one can’t deny that most netizens are unaware of Raju Yadav’s crowdfunding campaign. Network size matters in crowdfunding, and Raju Yadav lacks it.
2. It’s important to know the people, but in the case of crowdfunding, what’s more important is who knows you. As a Lutyens’ revolutionary who has been active in the circuit for the last few years whilestudying in one of the finest universities in India, Kanhaiya gets invited to conclaves where power elites participate. He is not a power elite, but he understands them and has mingled among those who shape opinions. His travails after the Azaadi slogan at a JNU event, his arrest, the lawyers’ attack on him – all of this has contributed to the popular progressive cause that Kanhaiya has become today. He is more than a candidate, he is a potent symbol of anti-Modism. This gives him a huge edge and explains the comparatively large donations in his kitty.
So even those who may not want to bring a Communist revolution in India will still swipe their cards. Top five donors for Kanhaiya together contributed Rs 8.75 lakh. The top five donors for Raju Yadav have collectively failed to generate even Rs 50,000. So, Raju Yadav can be a popular mass leader in his own capacity in Arrah and he may have done great things for people there, but that alone is not fetching him money since he does not know the people who can spare money for him or his cause. He is facing deficit on both counts: network size and embedded network resources.
3. In terms of economic capital, both the candidates may be at a similar level, but there is a huge difference between them as far as the cultural capital is concerned. They have gone through different types of socialisation and that explains the different kinds of social networks that work for them. At the lower level of the social pyramid, people face a deficit in aspirations and thinking big does not come easily to them.
A photograph of a school-going Kanhaiya getting a prize from A.B. Bardhan, a towering leader of the Communist movement, explains the social training he got in his early years. His confidence stems from that background, which Raju Yadav lacks. So, it has been easier for Kanhaiya to interact with elites and build networks with them despite his humble financial background. Dreaming big is one of the many privileges Kanhaiya had due to the coincidence of being born in an upper caste politically connected Bhumihar family. Raju Yadav lacks those privileges.
Kanhaiya may or may not win the election but he has defeated Raju Yadav in setting off the cha-ching – that magic sound of cash registers ringing.
The author is a senior journalist.