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Cong tells units to scrape teacup

Motilal Vora

Bhopal, June 9: If you drop in at the Madhya Pradesh Congress headquarters, don’t expect to be served a cup of tea any more.

No, the party has not developed an aversion to the beverage thanks to the tea-stall background of the Prime Minister, Congress officials insist.

Nor has it anything to do with the BJP’s pre-poll “chai pe charcha” (discussion over a cup of tea) campaign to garner support for Narendra Modi.

It’s just that the state Congress can no longer afford to welcome guests and visiting journalists with a hot cuppa. For, following the poll drubbing, it has been told to raise its own day-to-day costs.

When the United Progressive Alliance was in power, All India Congress Committee treasurer Motilal Vora used to send the state unit a draft for Rs 5 lakh every month.

Early last week, state Congress chief Arun Yadav was told there would be no money any more from 24 Akbar Road, the party’s national headquarters.

All Pradesh Congress units in states where the Congress was not in power received a monthly dole of varying sums. Sources said each of these units had been served this same piece of “bad news”.

Yadav first tried to tackle the problem by urging “well-to-do” party activists and sympathisers to “donate” Rs 1,000 a month, sources said. But his request found few takers.

Now, Yadav has requested the state’s 55 party MLAs and five MPs (two Lok Sabha and three Rajya Sabha members) to contribute a month’s salary each.

It remains to be seen whether the MLAs — and MPs Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Satyavrat Chaturvedi and Vijaylaxmi Sadho — oblige Yadav.

The state Congress’s running costs come to more than Rs 5 lakh a month, with the balance made up by membership fees. The expenses include staff salaries, electricity and telephone bills, conveyance, stationery, Wi-Fi, and the like.

Yadav is now looking for other avenues to raise money. Sources close to him said he was toying with the idea of renting out the old state Congress office, Jawahar Bhavan, to shopkeepers and boutique owners.

The building, located at Tantya Tope Nagar in the heart of Bhopal, now houses the Bhopal district unit. Spread over 40,000 square feet and managed by a private trust, Jawahar Bhavan has the potential to tide the state unit over its financial difficulties.

The catch is that like most political party offices, it stands on government land handed out cheap under the head of public purposes. So, if it is put to a purely commercial use, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s BJP government can raise questions.

Attempts to take the austerity measures beyond the axe on tea can bring their own problems. For instance, insiders said the state Congress was considering laying off some drivers, typists and peons.

But some of them have been part of the state Congress establishment for decades — so sacking them without a “golden handshake” would be seen as harsh.

The Congress has two main sources of income, the principal being political donations to which the nominal membership fees — which state units have anyway to share 50:50 with the national headquarters — make a small addition.

A political party’s donations tend to take a hit following election defeats, and this has been the Congress’s worst ever.

The party has had to tighten its purse strings whenever it has been out of power, but never before has it had to entirely stop its funds flow to the state units.

The Madhya Pradesh unit’s problems are among the worst because the party has faced one drubbing after another in the state since 2003, drying up the local donations too.