March 15, 2015

Funds from Masses & Work for Masses

V Srinivasa Rao

THE experience of the Party state committees of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana in raising funds from the masses in the run up to the 21st Congress has been very rich and inspiring. These fund collection drives  were conducted in Hyderabad from January 20 to February 10 and in all 13 district headquarters of AP  from March 1 to 10.

About 3,000 workers and activists from all districts of Telangana participated in the drive in Hyderabad. Of them, about 1,800 were part of the drive throughout. In Ongole town of Andhra Pradesh, 440 members of Prakasam district participated in the drive, and of them, 110 were there throughout the campaign. Majority of the Party whole-timers barring those who were ageing or sick were there throughout the campaign. A significant number of part-timers and a good number of Party members have participated in this campaign ranging from one day to a week. The number of activists who have participated on Sundays and holidays was more. The participation of women comrades was significant and some of them participated along with their families.

Preparatory workshops were held and comrades were trained on the methods and aspects of approaching people, the mode of taking up political discussions and convincing them for donating money. Substantial efforts were put in for preparations of campaign material and due publicity was given to aware people about the fund collection drive.

Stickers, leaflets, posters, booklets were distributed. A dress code of red T-shirt/saree, red cap, flags and tags was decided upon to have a symmetrical appearance of the comrades participating in the campaign. Vehicles with mike sets were airing pre-recorded audio on the fund collection drive. All the towns and villages were categorised into zones and  senior leaders were assigned with the responsibility of different zones. Teams were formed with local and outstation comrades.

The drives started around 7 in the morning with focus on door-to-door campaign in residential areas in mornings and evenings, while touching upon the commercial areas in the same locality during afternoons. Workers camped in their target localities and arrangements for food and rest were done in the camps itself. Comrades could take rest for only 6-7  hours and group leaders did not have rest beyond four hours. Team reviews and zonal reviews were conducted every day after the drive. After the reviews, necessary directions for course correction were suggested based on the days' experience. The money raised was deposited with the Party headquarters everyday.

For various reasons, 20-30 percent of the households were found locked when our comrades visited the houses. This writer has personally come across a good number of households that were unoccupied in Hyderabad and in Ongole town. The working poor and middle class families in these cities/towns are moving to outskirts, suburbs or adjacent villages where rents are relatively low and are commuting to the urban centres. Small to big schools are nowadays providing pool cars to the rural areas thereby the problem of schooling of their kids has also been eased. It was difficult to enter into apartments and gated communities. Guards were denying permission and in some places, secretaries of residents' associations were denying permission under the pretext of they raising funds and giving it to us later.

In Hyderabad, a large number of people, up to 50 percent, expressed their aversion to politics and political parties. In Hyderabad, only 32 percent of the households approached donated money, contrary to 65 percent in Ongole. Total funds collected in Hyderabad is Rs 3.28 crore. In AP, the collection all over the state in the ten-day campaign is Rs 1.3 crores.  It is nearly about Rs 10 lakh in Ongole. On an average, each team could touch 100-150 households and on an average Rs 50-100 was collected per household depending on the geographical, economic and demographic situation. This calculation was made while not considering those who promised to donate later. Our comrades approached leaders of different political parties, celebrities and intellectuals who also supported. The campaign being in the first week of the month those working as private employees could not donate money due to the delay in payment of their salary. Separate teams were formed to raise money from those who would donate handsome amounts.

Artisans, construction workers, auto drivers, rickshaw pullers, hawkers have responded very favourably. Government middle-class employees, minorities and social groups like Dalits also responded favourably. Our interventions in the unorganised and social sectors reflected during this campaign. When they did not have money they borrowed money from neighbours and donated. There were instances when people gave whatever money they had in their pockets and called our comrades later and donated more money. There were certain incidents which inspired and boosted the morale of the cadre. Pensioners and senior citizens have invited our teams into the houses offered tea/buttermilk and discussed politics while donating money. Amongst whom there were individuals such as a Deputy Collector, an NGO leader, headmaster who came out in open and expressed their solidarity and wanted us to be in contact with them and promised to take up activities in those areas. We could get contacts of many Left sympathisers with whom otherwise we did not have any contact. Many of them were hailing our approach to dissociate with bourgeoisie parties in elections. Our approach towards communalism was appreciated by many, especially minorities. In comparison to the traditional middle-class, the response among the new middle class was significantly low.

In most of the households only women were available at home. While donating, the gender aspect was reflected clearly. Women in poor areas such as slums and women who were working from home (domestic professions) donated money immediately, whatever amounts they could, without hesitating. Middle class women particularly housewives have said that husbands were not at home. When requested to donate money from their kitchen expenditure, a significant number of them have said they would take money from their husbands on a daily basis. Even amongst those who had money with them have blatantly refused to give money without the permission of their husbands. When knocked at the doors, people opened the doors only when they saw elderly people and were hesitant to open the doors if they saw young people.

Those under the age of 30 were antagonistic to politics and political parties. There is a trend of looking at CPI(M) to be one amongst other political parties. There were good number of people who have said we don't know politics and we will not donate. They asked about what our Party has done. At the same time, they were against the political evils in the society such as corruption, violating the assurances given by the parties during elections, political leaders leading a lavish life. They were surprised to see our comrades walking around and moving in the streets and seeking donations. They responded favourably when they were explained how we are a different party, when our comrades mentioned the instances when we refused to take money from the corporate houses, etc. In some places, girl students have donated from their pocket money after they were convinced. We met a good number of students who were working with NGOs on social causes. In one household, despite resistence from her grandparents, a B-Tech final year girl donated Rs 100 stating that she would donate money for good causes. Antagonism towards social and political evils and aspiration for new politics and good governance amongst youths should be viewed as change in their attitude.  Amongst those who were in their youth at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and those who are now in the late middle ages i.e. late 40s and early 50s the impact of  anti-Communist propaganada was significant. Amongst those in their 60s, there is an overall disappointment on the Communist movement and the wish for the unity of Left parties was visible. Antagonism to political parties but not anti-Communist attitude amongst youths is a favourable condition.

This campaign has served as a practical school to the comrades to understand different issues, arguments of the people, how to convince them and win over them. Approaching nine lakh households in Hyderabad and forty thousand households in Ongole has created a sensation in public and political circles. Either in Hyderabad or district headquarters, comrades marching with red flags has surprised the people. Progressive sections, Communist sympathisers devoid of their political affiliations have applauded this effort.

This entire campaign has not only helped raise funds but also greatly served as a means to introduce the Party and our views to newer sections of the populace. Besides, it helped us in identifying people who came forward to work in our Party. Party workers could notice multiple local issues faced by the people in residential areas. Barring Vijayawada and Khammam, we had not taken up the door-to-door drive in such a scale earlier, even during elections. The whole campaign boosted the determination and confidence of the Party cadre. This has helped in identifying their strengths and weaknesses and facilitated rectification of their mistakes.

There was visible differentiation amongst the cadre on their capacities, capabilities, stamina and resilience. Particularly women have participated with determination, overcoming their domestic issues and responsibilities. Even in those instances where individuals behaved rudely our comrades maintained their composure and avoided conflict. There was an instance when our comrades were consistently pleading for funds, they were warned of letting out pet dogs by the house owner. A good number of our comrades have communicated and convinced people in common man's language. However, there were some who spoke in our conventional vocabulary which is not understood by many of the donors.

The drive was carried out just 8-9 months after the general elections. The illusions amongst the people about Modi, KCR and Chandrababu Naidu were not visible to that extent anymore. Failure to fulfil promises and increase of burdens on the people have become topics of discussion. In some areas, those who had voted for BJP, TRS and TDP in previous elections expressed their disappointment. This was a favourable situation for us to go to people seeking funds. The campaign has increased the consciousness of raising money from and amongst the people for whom we are working for. This also helped in increasing the awareness amongst the people to donate money to parties who are working for them. Though mass fund collection drive is widely taken up such as in Kerala, this has been an inspiring experience for the party in Telangana and AP. In AP this campaign is being continued till the last week of this month in the remaining towns and villages.