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So how do those without big pockets contest polls?

January 23, 2015 16:21 IST

With help from family members and pension amounts, some Delhi electoral hopefuls are managing to stay afloat financially in the battle for ballots. Their sole prayer -- let there not be another hung assembly. contributor Upasna Pandey reports.

Politics, it is said, is more about perceptions than reality. Candidates want to be omnipresent and want their faces visible to electors, at all times. 

That costs a lot of money but what if the candidate is 'fiscally challenged,' or simply put, unable to spend massive amounts of money in a campaign. spoke to a few candidates who are low on election funds in Delhi, to understand how they are managing to survive and catch the eyeballs by being “strategic and physical”, to make every paisa count.

It becomes critical in view of the fact that Delhi has seen three elections between 2013 and now and some candidates have contested in all three. 

Aam Admi Party candidate from Mongolpuri and former minister, Rakhi Birla, among the youngest candidates, is one such case. There are also others in Congress, which is on a low curve, making it a tough run for candidates who come from salaried background and not typical deep-pocket political base.

While Aam Aadmi Party extends financial support to ‘needy’ candidates, it is all about “spending the money wisely and strategically” which is more important, say the candidates. 

What this essentially means that, unlike candidates who are spending on long-run, high visibility campaign through outdoor and other mediums, the low fund candidates tend to focus more on door-to-door, ‘physical connect’ campaigns and indulge in short term publicity expenses in form of pamphlets, banners, badges etc, more towards the last leg of the campaign period.

“This is the third time I have gone to my supporters seeking funds and they have been quite supportive,” says Rakhi. 

She has declared her net worth of Rs 18,000 and cash in hand of Rs 8,500 in the Election Commission declaration. This is a loss for her from the declaration made in 2013 when she declared her net worth as Rs 51,150.

So how does Rakhi reach out to her supporters for funds?

“I say that I am here for you and not for myself. Also, the party has been supportive; I got 50-70 per cent of the total campaign expenses from the party during the last election. I hope to get as much this time around too.”

Rakhi argues that this isn’t too tough for her as she has managed her campaign well earlier as well. 

“My volunteers even have their meals at home before they start out for the daily campaign with me. We only do the essential expenses for the campaign. Also, we don’t have to spend money on distributing liquor, woollens and blankets or give cash to woo our voters like my opponents. I am more focused on nukkad sabhas, door-to-door canvassing so physical connect works much better for me.”

Yoganand Shastri, 69, a veteran and two-time minister in the Congress government in Delhi who took voluntary retirement from the position of Reader in the Shaheed Bhagat Singh College some years back, too puts up a candid face.

“Yes it is a tough run with low funds but I am contesting the elections the same way as always. I am moving around in someone else’s car, in fact my party workers and well-wishers are managing the entire campaign. There is cash crunch for sure. I am focusing more on door-to-door meetings. The All India Congress Committee does provide some publicity material which is helpful, but I would try and spend on publicity material towards the last leg of the campaign,”

says Shashtri.

He takes a stern view of AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Arvind Kejriwal’s recent comment that voters should take money from BJP and Congress but vote for his party. 

“As a leader of a party, Kejriwal has shown his disrespect for voters and his low level of thinking.”

He points to hoardings by his opponent, AAP’s Somnath Bharti which are double sided, saying that each day the rent for such hoardings would be around Rs 2,500-4,000 depending on the size and placement of the hoarding. 

“I cannot afford this kind of visibility in the constituency, but I am going around meeting residents and am confident they will see the reality of candidates who claim to be fighting corruption but can be seen spending so much for the campaign.”

He is dismissive of the AAP and says that he “considers the BJP to be a serious opponent for the Congress. The AAP is not even a national party and did not show any seriousness. I hope voters can see that clearly and vote accordingly.”

Shastri insists that “the high pitched campaign by BJP through various mediums may fail as the middle class and educated voters are disenchanted with the party and the poor can see they are being misled.”

Shastri does not approve of AAP’s means to raise funds through lunch and tea parties and photo ops with its leaders. 

“There may be shortage of funds, but Congress need not resort to all this tamasha as done by AAP to turn black money into white by calling it a fund raiser. We need to continue on simple and focused campaign.”

Shashtri says his family, which includes his wife and children who are working, is also supportive to him. 

“I also get a pension of around Rs 17,000 as a former MLA. Also, I don’t have to spend money on liquor distribution, which is a common practice by many candidates. So I think I should manage fine.”

Asked if he would be prepared to fight elections one more time if Delhi gets a hung assembly once again, Shastri said: “Why should we think of a hung assembly at all? I hope that Delhi does not need fresh polls after this anytime soon.”

Leeladhar Bhatt, Congress candidate from RK Puram, is a first-time contestant, who boasts of working for the party for over 28 years and his ‘humble’ background of being a government servant’s son.

Though he runs a small garment export business, Bhatt insists that “the lack of funds is an issue but everyone in the family and supporters from his native Uttarakhand community residents have come forward to support him in every way possible.”

“It is definitely not easy to manage with low funds, but so far all crucial publicity work has not got stalled for lack of funds as my supporters are pitching in,” says Leeladhar.

He also thanks his brothers and sister who are supporting him and helping him “fight the election without any tension”. 

He adds that “there would be other candidates who can spend lots of money but voters will choose us for what we are offering and not the publicity, billboards and pamphlets alone.”

Candidates like Leeladhar Bhatt and Rakhi Birla might be among the not-so-well-off candidates in the Delhi electoral race but two elections in two-years has been a difficult proposition for all candidates, across the political spectrum. 

The last thing they want now is a hung-assembly and or the possibility of a chief minister resigning from power again. 

In other words, the possibility of another election may not be affordable for many candidates in Delhi.

Image: AAP's Rakhi Birla campaigning in a locality in Delhi. Photograph: PTI

Upasna Pandey