Bengaluru: The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) is facing a funding crunch ever since it lost power in the state last year, making life difficult for a party that is desperately trying to win back lost ground or risk cementing its place in the opposition for years to come.
After almost five “good" years of funds inflow from 2013 to 2018, the Congress was forced to ally with its traditional rival, the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), last year and its finances have gone downhill since, largely due to the political uncertainty that engulfed the coalition’s term in office.
After its drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections and then losing power in Karnataka, the Congress is now staring at a prolonged dry spell that is likely to have an adverse impact on its bypoll preparations in at least 17 assembly constituencies as well as its own internal restructuring exercise, scheduled to be completed within the next two months.
At least three people familiar with the finances of the party said that funding has declined while expenditure like availing special flights has increased. In 2018-19, the Congress managed funds only to the tune of around ₹10 crore while its dues for various services, including special flights and helicopters that cost anywhere between ₹90,000 and ₹4 lakh per hour, far exceed its revenue, people aware of the finances said.
“Many people do not want to be seen funding the Congress fearing a backlash by the BJP," said a Congress leader requesting not to be named.
The Congress has for long accused the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using the Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate among other central agencies against political opponents.
Dinesh Gundu Rao, the state Congress president, said there “is a lot of hesitation" among people in coming out openly in support of the party and that many fear they will be “targeted".
He refused to divulge the extent of the decline, instead pointing out that BJP was the beneficiary in most electoral bonds.
Nationally, the BJP has declared that it received ₹437.04 crore from nearly 3,000 donations while the Congress declared receiving ₹26.65 crore from 777 donations, according to a 2017-18 report compiled by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog.
For the local units, cash collected through issue of coupons during membership drives, party events, donations from businessmen and corporates, sale of application forms for various posts and contributions by elected representatives are some of the known or legal sources of funding.
ADR had also stated in 2016 that sources of funding for over 75% of donations remain unknown.
The infighting for top posts also saw some state leaders hand in contributions directly to influential national leaders to earn favour, one of the three people cited above said.
Narendra Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, says that donors now fund leaders and not necessarily the party.
Though the Congress finds itself free from the shackles of an inconvenient coalition, the funds are yet to find their way back.
At least 17 legislators resigned, allegedly at the behest of the BJP, and are now waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if it can overturn their disqualification and contest bypolls. The contest will see the Congress and JD(S) try to take on the money might of the former legislators, allegedly with the financial backing of the BJP.
Chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa enjoys only a slender majority and needs to win at least eight out of the 17 seats for his government to continue in office. Dates for the bypolls are yet to be announced.
The Congress has also dissolved the state unit barring the president and working president. Party workers say that they are reluctant to mobilise funds without holding any post as it could be for nothing if the leaders favour someone else.
One Congress worker said the extended office building behind the Congress' existing office on Queens Road in Bengaluru has remained unfinished going on for several years because of the lack of funds.