India’s main opposition Congress party is facing a financial crisis that could undermine its ability to wrest power from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wealthy Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019.
For the past five months, Congress leadership has stopped sending the funds required to run its offices in various states, party officials with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media. To overcome the crisis, Congress has urged members to step up contributions and asked officials to cut expenses, they said.
Led by Rahul Gandhi, the party’s steady flow of money from industrialists has all but dried up, leaving a cash crunch so serious that it’s been forced to crowd-fund for a candidate.
“We don’t have money,” said Divya Spandana, who leads the Congress Party’s social media department. Compared with the BJP, she said her party is not getting much funding via electoral bonds — a new method for cash donation to political parties — which may force Congress to opt for more online crowd sourcing to raise money.
Modi’s string of electoral wins engineered along with his key aide and party president Amit Shah have decimated the space once occupied by the Congress Party. At last count, BJP rules with its allies in 20 states, several of them wrested from the grand old party, and Modi remains the most popular leader ahead of next year’s federal elections. Congress now controls just two big states, down from 15 in 2013.
Big business has steadily migrated away from the Congress, said Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow for South Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. “Headed into 2019, the BJP has a decisive fundraising advantage, not least because the Congress and other key regional parties are seen as less business-friendly.” Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala declined to comment.
Congress earned one-fourth of the funds than BJP in the financial year ended March 2017. The BJP declared an income of 10.34 billion rupees ($152 million) during this period, an increase of 81 percent from a year ago, according to Association for Democratic Reforms. Congress, in comparison, received 2.25 billion rupees, a drop of 14 percent from previous year.
An endless wait for a flight ticket due to lack of funds meant a senior leader couldn’t reach an eastern state on time to supervise elections earlier this year. The party’s campaign paled into comparison to the BJP’s in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya polls, an official said, noting it was one of the reasons it had failed to gain power in those states. The curbs extend beyond travel to allowances for serving tea to guests at party offices.
The BJP spent double that of Congress and is way ahead in attracting corporate donations. The Hindu nationalist party received donations of 7.05 billion rupees from 2,987 corporates during the four years to March 2016, while Congress got 1.98 billion rupees from 167 business houses, according to ADR.