MUMBAI, Sept.12: “I will not contribute five paisa, leave alone five lakh. What do they mean by issuing circular asking Ex-Chief Ministers to contribute Rs 5 lakh to the party fund? There should be some logic, some mechanism. I am not a jadugar (magician) to produce rs 5 lakh in one month,” says former Maharashtra Chief Minister Babasaheb Bhonsle.
Mr. Bhonsle is peeved at a circular issued by Maharashtra Pradesh Congress president Ranjit Deshmukh to all Congressmen to come to the rescue of the cash-starved Maharashtra Congress and donate a certain amount to the party’s kitty.
For example, ex-Chief Ministers, including Mr. Bhonsale, Mr Sharad Pawar Mr Sudhakar Naik, have to raise Rs 5 lakh each, ex-State Ministers, Rs 2.5 lakh, MPs, Rs 1 lakh, ex-MPs, Rs 50,000 and legislators, Rs 25,000.
What do they think I am?” fumes Mr Bhonsle. “Even when I was the Chief Minister, I remember madam (the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi) saying no when I asked her whether she expected funds during the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh elections in 1982. Madam told us to help the Congressmen in AP and Karnataka by giving logistical support for which I was promised reimbursement”.
According to Mr. Bhonsle, when he went much later to New Delhi seeking reimbursement of Rs23lakh expenses, Mr. Makhan Lal Fotedar directed him to meet Mr. Sitaram Kesari, who was the party treasurer then, Mr. Kesari kept him waiting for the amount for two days and finally Mr. Bhonsle approached the PM. “She told me to return to Maharashtra Sadan, promising that I would get the money soon. I was feeling bad that the Chief Minister of a State had to wait for two days to get the money back. But within ten minutes of returning from the PM house, I got the money in two suitcases, ” says Mr. Bhonsle, adding that in his time the State Congressmen were not expected to contribute to the party kitty. “Yes, people flew to Mumbai and collected money in five star hotels. But that was behind my back,” says Mr. Bhonsle.
Indeed, the MPCC president’s directive, issued on July 24, has perplexed many Congressmen who have never seen any resource crunch for the State Congress. The difference from the past is that the Congress has now been out of power for two years and after a long time it is feeling the need for funds. MPCC general secretary Gurunath Kulkarni feels that it is an internal matter of the party and not a matter of debate. “It was easier for us to manage funds when we were in power. There was no severe shortage of funds. If Mr. Bhonsle writes a letter to us expressing his inability to raise funds, we can certainly excuse him. There is no cumpulsion,” he clarifies.
On the other, veteran Congressman Murli Deora, who has single-handedly managed the affairs of the Mumbai Congress and is the Bombay regional Congress Committee president says that he would never have issued such a circular. “I think you cannot direct and force people to contribute money. It is just not done,” he says.
The circular issued by the MPCC president to all Congressmen in the state indirectly points out that it was time now for party men to repay their due to the party for the fruits of power they had enjoyed earlier and which had been made possible by the party itself.
Mr. Bhonsle feels that Mr. Pawar’s hand is behind the circular and points out that Mr Deshmukh is a Pawar confidant. “We all know that Mr. Pawar can run MPCC single-handedly. But this (circular) is Mr. Pawar’s way of arranging for funds and also his way of keeping his interests alive in the State,” says Mr. Bhonsle.
Former Youth Congress president and MP Gurudas Kamath, however, says that this is not the first time that the Congress is seeking funds within the party. “We don’t have a target for collection. But yes, the collection should be time-bound and why not? People otherwise will go on postponing the collection,” he says. The former Congress MP adds that Congress is fully competent to collect the funds as it has a good organizational network in the State.
Senior fund collectors in the party are amused at the ham-handed way Mr. Deshmukh is going about collecting funds. “There are other ways to collect finds. This is what happens 9referring to the circular) when amateurs like Mr. Deshmukh become MPCC president,” says a senior fund collector of the Congress.
By Ketan Narottam Tanna