Political Crowdfunding and Caste: Which election candidates raised the most funds on Our Democracy?

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Though little media attention has gone to SP spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari, who is contesting from Bihar, but he is only behind Kanhaiya Kumar and Atishi in the amount of campaign funds raised through crowdfunding. Candidates from the so-called upper castes and classes have been more successful in raising political funds on the platform ourdemocracy.in

Saroj Kumar


Top three fundraisers on Our Democracy (Photo: Our Democracy website)

The little media attention that has gone to the election for the Karakat Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar has been focused on it being former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha’s seat. The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) presence in the electoral contest in Bihar, and in this seat, has similarly escaped much of the media gaze. Ghanshyam Tiwari, SP’s national spokesperson, is contesting from Karakat, which goes to the polls on 19 May in the 7th phase.

Despite not getting much media coverage, there is one arena in which Tiwari has emerged a winner: in raising funds through the crowdfunding platform ourdemocracy.in. The Communist Party of India’s Kanhiaya Kumar and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Atishi have raised the most funds through the platform. Tiwari is on their tail. It is sometimes argued that those candidates whose election campaign and social media campaigns achieve the most reach, or those who manage to secure more media coverage, are able to raise the most funds. Tiwari appears to not have followed this pattern – despite very little coverage he has been able to raise close to Rs 30 lakh as of 11 May.

The Top Five Fundraisers

The CPI’s candidate for Begusarai, Kanhaiya Kumar, was the first to raise Rs 70 lakh on the Our Democracy platform. Soon after, the AAP’s candidate for East Delhi, Atishi, also raised Rs 70 lakh. As of 11 May, Tiwari has raised Rs 27.19 lakh. Three of the six most successful campaigns on the platform are by AAP leaders. Aside from Atishi, Dilip Pandey (contesting from North East Delhi) has raised Rs 8,21,164 and Raghav Chadha (contesting from South Delhi) has raised Rs 5,03,615. The group Artists Unite, which raised Rs 11 lakh 54 thousand for a cultural event at the Red Fort in March, is at 4th position, above Pandey and Chadda.

Dalit-Adivasi-OBCs are behind

Several Dalit, Adivasi and OBC leaders have also attempted to raise funds on the Our Democracy platform. These campaigns though have failed to reach the same heights. For example, the Bhim Army which is widely popular among Dalits in particular, has been able to raise only Rs 6,425, while aiming to raise Rs 2 lakh. Crowdfunding campaigns had also been set up for Bhim Army and its leader Chandrasekhar on Crowdnewsing (Our Democracy’s predecessor crowdfunding brand). Similarly, the campaign for Bahujan Samaj Party’s candidate for Thrissur, Nikhil Chandrasekharan failed to raise even a single Rupee. BSP’s young Dalit candidate for Gopalganj, Kunal Kishore, was able to raise Rs 46,000 and the BSP’s Buxar candidate Sushil Kushwaha Chand received only Rs 200. Several Dalit-Adivasi-OBC leaders’ campaigns have faced the same.

Only two campaigns among Dalit-Bahujan leaders have fared relatively better. These are the campaigns for Rohith Vemula’s colleague Vijay Kumar Pedapudi, a BSP candidate in the Andhra Pradesh assembly election, which raised close to Rs 4 lakh, and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist)’s candidate for Arah, Raju Yadav, which raised close to Rs 3 lakh. Vijay Kumar’s candidacy was highlighted in the media due to his association with Rohith Vemula, and a strong social media campaign among Bahujans was waged in favour of Raju Yadav’s campaign.

Caste/Class based Social Capital

What could be the basis for this disparity between funds raised by Dalit-Adivasi-OBC campaigners and those from the so-called upper castes? One possible explanation could be the popularity of the respective leaders or their political campaigns on and off social media. However, the relatively unknown Ghanshyam Tiwari is among the top three fundraisers, while Bhim Army, which has been in the news for the past two years, was able to raise only Rs 6000.

From Social Capital to Economic Capital

The disparity can be explained by considering the campaigners’ personal and social networks, which is formed on the basis of their caste. This is how Kanhaiya Kumar, of the Bhumihar community, was able to become the first to raise Rs 70 lakh on Our Democracy while presenting himself as the son of a poor mother. The head of a famous chain of coaching centre was the top contributor to his campaign, putting in Rs 5 lakh. Atishi who also raised Rs 70 lakh, is of the Rajput community, and her community identity has been aggressively projected by AAP leader and Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. Ghanshyam Tiwari, Dilip Pandey, and Raghav Chadha’s caste identities are also evident. AAP is known for originating from an NGO culture and that might explain why they are better at crowdfunding. It also shows that the same kind of people dominates India’s NGO sector too.

The difference between social and financial background

Atishi, Ghanshyam Tiwari and Raghav Chadha have all studied at premier institutes abroad. Tiwari has worked in a multinational company. Pandey was earlier a Hong-Kong based IT consultant. These four are clearly of a well off financial and social elite class. It is also evident that the donors to their campaigns are also from similar elite social and financial classes. Several donations of over Rs 1 lakh were made to their campaigns. Kanhaiya’s campaign received Rs 5 lakh from a single donor. It is clear that members of their own castes and classes have supported these campaigners.

This is a clear indication of how social capital is based on caste and class identity. While large capitalists huge debts are written off to little outrage, relief for farmers, or programmes to support those of the deprived classes face the anger of the same elites who fund the political campaigns of the likes of Atishi, Kanhaiya, Pandey, Chadha and Tiwari.

It is evident so far that the most successful political fundraisers on ourdemocracy.in have been of the so-called “twice born” castes, of elite social and financial classes. Meanwhile, the platform has not been able to raise funds for campaigners of deprived communities and Dalits-Adivasis-OBCs.

Translated from Hindi by Abir Dasgupta. Read the original Hindi version here.