India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party is flush with funds, and we’re only talking about the cash in the bank. This is not surprising. It is the big businesses that fund political parties. In their own interest, they are wise to fund the ruling party, and the party likely to win the next election. There was this time when the Aam Aadmi Party won 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi in 2015. I saw a miserly shopkeeper give an AAP leader a generous discount. “Everyone salutes the rising sun,” the shopkeeper told me.
It takes money to fight elections, lots of it, in white, in black and in grey. In any election in the country today, you can see that the BJP has an advantage in terms of resources. Almost no party is able to match the BJP’s resources 1:1.
The Congress is behind by a long shot. The Congress supporters rue that the big businesses give most of their political donations to the BJP. The big businesses, therefore, are to be blamed for the Congress’ near-empty coffers, not its poor leadership, strategy or fundraising efforts. Certainly, not Rahul Gandhi.
Question is, why have the Congress coffers been empty even though it ruled the country for 10 years from 2004 to 2014, and had many state governments during the period? This is even more strange when you consider that the Congress lost power thanks to a long list corruption charges. There was a time when a new scam allegation would hit the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-2 government every week.
Maybe the Congress and the Congress-led UPA-2 was completely honest. But if the party’s bank account hasn’t been overflowing despite being in power for 10 years, something’s wrong with its fundraising. Fundamentally, it’s the belief that returning to power is inevitable. When the people of India get fed up of Modi, they will return to the good old Congress, and so will the flow of money from the big businesses. If it happened in 1980, 1991 and 2004, why not 2024?
This theory of inevitability has been crushed by the 2019 results with the Congress party’s fortunes showing no signs of improvement. If anything, they have worsened in the Hindi heartland.
So, how will the Congress now have any money to fight future elections? Having governments in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh could help a bit, as might being in the treasury benches in Karnataka. And that is one good reason why Modi-Shah will seek to orchestrate Operation Lotus and snatch some of these governments away from the Congress’ hand.
The BJP gets money because it is able to create the perception that it is going to win the election. This money makes sure that it indeed wins the election, making big businesses donate even more to the party.
In such a situation, the only way the Congress and other opposition parties can attract more campaign finance is by creating the impression that they can win the election. Money will come if opposition parties like the Congress actually do something. It won’t come by wanting to spread love, taking a foreign holiday every three months and being glued to the phone in Parliament.
Creating this impression will actually require doing something on the ground — agitations, movements, campaigns. It will need these parties to engage with the masses, an art they seem to have lost.
A lost opportunity
Small traders, for instance, were very unhappy with the Modi government because their businesses were hurt badly by demonetisation and GST, as also by digitisation and globalisation. Did any opposition party really try wooing the small traders, the MSME owners and the Baniyas? This is a community with money. It could have funded opposition parties.
But our opposition parties presumed they won’t be able to win this vote bank, given its commitment to the BJP-RSS and the Hindutva ideology.
But how would the opposition know without trying? If the BJP can successfully break into the vote banks of opposition parties, the latter can also do the same to the BJP. When asked if the BJP was alienating its traditional core voter base of Baniyas and traders, the BJP-RSS leaders and workers often said (privately), “Where will they go? To the Congress?”
If the Congress and other opposition parties had made a big effort to woo this community after GST, they could have heaped rich rewards. Most of the community would still have voted for the BJP, but some would have started funding the opposition. This would have also helped create the perception that the opposition could defeat the BJP, bringing it even more money. Everybody salutes the rising sun.
To win such battles, and earn the trust and cheques of donors, the opposition will have to work hard on the ground, be with the people, show them that they have better solutions to their problems than the BJP. This will need spending more time on the streets and less in plush hotels.
The Congress and other opposition parties should stop complaining about money. Money follows hard work and smart strategy, in politics as in any other profession.
Views are personal.