The Chhotepur sting has stung back: Dip in AAP funds from Punjab

tuesday-chotepur-hindustan-leader-during-interview-senior_8b5b6f10-6961-11e6-8382-bd2fa398f652The sting operation that saw the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sack its Punjab chief Sucha Singh Chhotepur has stung it back. With Chhotepur turning the tables on the party by questioning where money raised in fundraising dinners in Punjab and donations from state were going and how he never got any funds to meet expenses as the state convener, the AAP will soon be announcing an official team to manage state’s finances in run up to the assembly polls.

While AAP contends that most of its donations throughout the world were coming for Punjab, the details put up by the party online tell a different story. The AAP trends, party’s online donations tracking website, shows not only donations from Punjab are not high among states, but have also been declining consistently after peaking around April 2016.

In an uncanny reflection of AAP’s popularity graph in the state, the graph on daily donations from Punjab since January 2014 shows a surge from December-January and peaks to over Rs 17 lakh on April 14, incidentally coinciding with the date of Talwandi Sabo rally. Thereafter, the party donations from Punjab show a significant dip and have not reached the Rs 1 lakh mark since June 23. The last donation on the party’s website is of Rs 1,000 on July 6.

AAP had courted its first major controversy on July 3 when it had released its youth manifesto and put its poll symbol “broom” on it. It then encountered yet another controversy over cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu’s no show after resigning as the Rajya Sabha MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party on July 18. More trouble came as the party faced open revolt by many to its list of candidates, and finally its attempt to take a “high moral ground” on corruption by sacking Chhotepur, too, backfired.

Party sources told HT that they would soon announce an official team to manage Punjab finances. “We will release all details on funds received from Punjab and appoint a team to handle state’s funds as our finances and funding are bound to come under scrutiny in run up to the elections,” sources said.

Though AAP admits its donations from Punjab do not seem robust, it claims party’s coffers in Delhi have swelled “exponentially” owing to donations for Punjab. “After Keralites and Gujaratis, the highest funding for AAP is coming from Punjabi NRIs. Many Punjabis are donating to AAP from outside Punjab from states and cities such as Maharashtra and Bengaluru. This all is not reflected in the state but the party’s central pool. Many people from Punjab, too, like to submit cheques in Delhi and they reflect in central donations,” party’s campaign committee convener Bhagwant Mann said.

‘Show us the money’

Voices of dissent within AAP also grew due to lack of financial powers. Chhotepur has alleged that the party did not account for the money raised by the state unit in fundraising dinners nor was any expenditure shown. Hardip Singh Kingra, Chhotepur loyalist and a former member of AAP’s finance team, claims the party spent at least Rs 2 crore to organise its conference at Maghi Mela in January to draw a huge crowd for AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP website puts the total donations from Punjab between December 12, 2013, and July 6, 2016, at Rs 2.6 crore.

“The data they put online is a farce. A lot of transactions are in cash and there is no transparency. As many as eight to 10 political conferences have been held in Punjab by AAP since June last year. The party also held 36 constituency-wise conferences. How were these being funded? There should be an inquiry. There is no balance sheet for Punjab. Of Rs 23 lakh I collected, Sanjay Singh took Rs 5 lakh in cash. When I told Durgesh Pathak about it, he kept quiet. I am going to reveal more details of financial bungling, fake entries in accounts and modus operandi to collect money on Thursday,” Kingra, a former bureaucrat, said. Sanjay Singh and Durgesh Pathak did not respond to calls and messages.

‘Spending govt funds’

While funds for Punjab are filling coffers of AAP’s Delhi accounts, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) red-flagged that AAP spent Rs 25 crore of Delhi government’s funds on advertisements and publicity campaigns outside the national capital. The party has been issuing full-page ads in many Punjab dailies in recent months.

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