‘No money for even lemon juice’: Crunch time for Congress campaign in Kerala

During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress in Kerala received 13.6 cr from the All India Congress Committee. This time around they haven’t got anything because of the party's frozen account.
‘No money for even lemon juice’: Crunch time for Congress campaign in Kerala
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The campaign momentum of the state unit of the Congress party in Kerala has been throttled by severe shortage of funds. The party leaders and campaign managers are unable to remunerate workers, pay for publicity material, or even foot basic expenses because of the resource crunch and have been forced to dig into their own pockets.

The party has not received money from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) which is facing restrictions on operating its bank accounts, because of issues related to an Income Tax notice.

“Our workers don’t have money for a glass of lemon juice in this sweltering heat,” said Opposition Leader VD Satheesan on March 26. His words candidly summed up the financial crisis the Congress party is facing in the state where the general elections are scheduled to be held on April 26, 2024.

“We cannot afford to spend money like the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Communist Party of India (Marxist)," Satheesan said. To tide over the crisis, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has now decided to raise campaign funds from the public. 

“Campaign materials were purchased under the promise that the money would be paid later. Workers are digging into their own pockets and also borrowing money to meet needs,” said KPCC general secretary AA Shukoor.

Sudheesh U, a Congress worker, campaigning for VK Sreekandan, the UDF candidate in Palakkad constituency, said the AICC was supposed to transfer funds for the campaign. “However, we have not received a single rupee from the party yet. We had to use our own money for expenses to stick posters, write wall graffiti, and organise conventions,” he said.

The Congress on March 21 had accused the BJP government of crippling the party financially by freezing its bank accounts ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The statement came a week after the Delhi high court upheld an order of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) which refused to stay a notice issued by the Income Tax Department to the Congress party for recovery of outstanding tax. Ajay Maken, the party's treasurer said the party has to ensure Rs 115 cr in its banks as lien. "This Rs 115 cr is much more than we have in our current accounts,” he said.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha election, Congress party conducted a crowdfunding initiative called ‘Donate for Desh’, with the aim of “empowering the party to create an India rich in equal resource distribution and opportunities.” The initiative was  launched on December 18, 2023. As per reports, till January 3, 2024 party has collected Rs 10 Cr.  

As per reports the national leaders of Congress are cutting down on travel across the country for campaign purposes, revealing the extent of the financial crisis faced by them. 

“The money now frozen in the bank is the money we collected for our campaigns,” AA Shukoor added.

“This is the first time a party has faced such a crisis. I have been working with the party since 1984, and haven’t seen these kinds of crises ever,” Rajeev, a Congress worker from Palakkad, told TNM.

PJ Joy, a state executive member of KPCC, who holds the charge of the UDF campaign in Chalakudy constituency, said parties like BJP and the CPI(M) are not facing a financial crisis because they are in power. “There would always be people to finance the ruling party. But our situation is different. Possibility of getting funds from the AICC is now locked,” he said.

PJ Joy also said that they haven’t received any official order or notification regarding the fundraising from the public. “However, we, the workers, have decided to collect money and face the financial crisis. We don't think this insufficiency of funds will seriously affect the outcome of this election. People have a feeling that a CPI(M) candidate or Independent candidate can make no difference in Lok Sabha,” he added. 

Shukkoor said the party had decided to raise funds but by what means would be decided only after the meeting with higher authorities. “We are confident that people will contribute if we approach them,” he said.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,the AICC gave the state unit Rs 13.6 cr, as per the account statement filed by the party before the Election Commission of India. This time they haven’t received any.

Congress workers are however wary of approaching ordinary people for funds. “How can we ask people for money when even pension payments have been affected. Even the state government employees are facing issues related to salary payments?” Rajeev said. 

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