Sunam MLA and the newly appointed chairman of the campaign committee for the Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Aman Arora, said that while it was true that the party was battling severe cash crunch in Punjab, its strength was playing the electoral game by the rules.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a day after being appointed as the chairman of the campaign committee at a meeting of the party held in New Delhi, Arora conceded that the party needed to rustle up some finances to meet the basic requirements of electioneering like posters, vehicles etc. “We have never believed in extravagance like the traditional parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress and neither do we have deep pockets like them. But yes, we have to arrange funds for meeting routine necessities and we are confident that we will be able to do so,” he said.
When asked why the party, once flush with funds, had reached this stage, Arora said that it was a normal process especially since the national convenor, Arvind Kejriwal has run a clean government in Delhi. “We have not had any liquor scam, sand mining scam, transport scam or anything like that. In fact, this paucity of funds is our strength. This is what we tell our voters that we subsist only on the donations that we get from them,” said Arora.
However, party insiders say that the lack of funds has affected the functioning of the party to a great extent. Members of the media team of the party have reportedly not been paid their full remunerations for a long time leading to one of them to quit last week. He has claimed that the party owed him Rs five lakh in back wages. There have also been incidents where persons who are owed money by the party have thronged the official residence of the Leader of Opposition, Harpal Cheema, seeking payments. Incidentally, the party is also saving some money by using the official residence of Cheema as their party office.
AAP candidate from Anandpur Sahib, Narinder Shergill, is reported to be one of the main contributors of funds to the party for past many years and it is because of his help that the party is largely staying afloat financially in Punjab.
The primary reason for the fiscal problems of AAP in Punjab appear to stem from the fact that many Punjabi NRIs who used to send hefty donations to the party have stopped doing so. A senior party leader informed, on condition of anonymity, that the donations from Punjabi NRIs had slowed down to a trickle as they were disappointed by the poor showing of AAP in 2017 Assembly polls, followed by lack of introspection and then the infighting which has virtually split the party.
“The funding is now coming on individual basis for certain projects that some MLAs undertake in their constituency. It is now on a case to case basis and the substantial donations have now shifted in favour of the Punjabi Ekta Party (PEP) led by Sukhpal Khaira. The NRIs have also contributed funds for the campaign of Paramjit Kaur Khalra, who is standing for election from Khadoor Sahib as PEP candidate,” a leader said.
The NRIs are learnt to have tried to broker peace between the warring factions of the party and even met the national convernor, Arvind Kejriwal, for the same but failed in their efforts. “This is why not many are taking any interest in these Lok Sabha polls and unlike the 2017 assembly polls when they visited Punjab in huge numbers to take active part in campaigning, their numbers are virtually nil now,” a party MLA disclosed.
It is also learnt that the party MLAs contribute Rs 5,000 each per month to maintain the finances of the legislative office of the party located in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha. This contributes to the wages of the office staff as well as the functioning of the office. However, even this contribution is now seeing cuts as at least two MLAs, Sukhpal Khaira and Baldev Singh, have stopped their contributions.
Matters finally reached a stage where the state president Bhagwant Mann had to issue an appeal on his Facebook page recently for the party supporters to contribute to the party fund. Aman Arora said that this was the only way out for the party. “We will ask for donations and people may give whatever they wish to us but we will manage our affairs well,” he said.