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Crowdfunding Political Campaigns – Stepping Away From The ‘Muscle-Money’ Equation

Crowdfunding Political Campaigns – Stepping Away From The ‘Muscle-Money’ Equation

OurDemocracy.in, an online platform dedicated to political crowdfunding, is removing the barriers to entry to Indian politics by empowering financially weaker candidates with the help of the people.

Image shows Atishi and Kanhaiya Kumar

In an effort to seek out financial help directly from the people, Kanhaiya Kumar, Communist Party of India’s young face from Begusarai, has taken the help of the internet to crowdfund his campaign, raising more than Rs. 52 lakh at the time of writing this article.

He is not the only one to have taken this step away from the conventional politics of muscle and money – Atishi, Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate for the Delhi East constituency, has also resorted to crowdfunding, raising more than Rs. 45 lakh for her campaign.

Kumar and Atishi are two of the many candidates you will find crowfunding on OurDemocracy.in, an online platform specialised in political crowdfunding, who’s payment structure is specially tailored in accordance to the rules and regulations of political funding, as set by the Election Commission of India.

While these candidates are either independent or affiliated to the party, the one feature that is common among them is that they are supported exclusively by the common people and lack the sufficient funds to campaign for the upcoming elections.

Significance of online crowdfunding in politics

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According to a 2018 report by International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), online crowdfunding, “can speak to much wider groups than a party’s usual supporter base, while minimizing time and effort for both the party and for donors.”

BOOM spoke to Bilal Zaidi, co-founder of OurDemocracy.in, who agrees.

“The idea of crowdfunding has always been there in India in the form of chanda. What technology does is, it helps us bypass certain challenges, like overcoming the distance between you and the donor and filtering your donor base to fit your requirements,” said Zaidi.

In the FY2017-2018, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attracted an average donation of Rs. 14 lakh per donor, while an average donation of Rs. 3.4 lakh per donor was made to Congress party in the same period.

Also Read: BJP Attracts 16 Times More Donations Than Congress

Such reliance on large donations by relatively small number of donors can be reduced by crowdfunding, according to the International IDEA report. This helps in curbing the leverage such donors may gain over a candidate or a party.

By lowering the donation threshold for the average citizen, crowdfunding can contribute to reducing the influence of big donors. It also lowers the threshold for new political parties and candidates to raise investment, since crowdfunding offers an avenue to raise funds that is independent of relations to big donors.

International IDEA, 2018

According to Zaidi, it is an existential question of whether, “we as a society and a democracy can afford to have a political system where ordinary citizens can’t participate in the funding of their candidates.”

Building trust and empowering the weak

The International IDEA report also suggests that a transparent method of crowdfunding can help parties and candidates ‘gain credibility and strengthen the party’s accountability to its voters’.

It can also function as a means to participate in politics for groups otherwise excluded from political decision- making.

“Many of the conditions that allow citizens to successfully run for political office depend on the availability of sufficient campaign funding,” the report said.

This would seem true for the case of Kumar, who, according to a Huffington Post report, maybe one of the poorest candidate to contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

For supporters who were conventionally unable to provide financial assistance in large numbers to their candidates, online crowdfunding has made it much easier to achieve this goal.

Also Read: Foreign Funding For Political Parties: All You Need To Know

How it all started

In 2017, Zaidi and co-founder Anand Mangnale assisted in raising Rs. 20 lakh for Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, to help him contest for the 2017 Gujarat Assembly Elections.

This was their first successful political crowdfunding campaign which helped Mevani win the Vadgam constituency in the Gujarat Assembly.

BOOM spoke to Kanhaiya Kumar’s aide Dhananjay, who revealed that it was Mevani, a close associate of Kumar, who suggested crowdfunding to the CPI candidate.

“We have known them (Zaidi and Mangnale) for a while, and the thought of crowdfunding came very naturally to us when Jignesh (Mevani) gave us the idea,” said Dhananjay.

How does it work?

Zaidi, who is also a former journalist, states that the payment structure on OurDemocracy.in is made in accordance to the rules and guidelines set by the RBI, and that his platform provides maximum transparency in the process.

After the donation is made, there are three parties involved in the online crowdfunding process – the payment gateway which facilitates the transactions, the online platform that facilitates the entire process and the party or candidate receiving the donation.

The following flowchart explains how the process is carried out when a donor makes a donation on OurDemocracy:

Threats and attacks

Efforts to crowdfund using the internet are also prone to potential threats and attacks from parties who wish to protect the influence of large donors.

OurDemocracy.in also came under a series of attacks last week which made the website unstable and upset the user experience for potential donors looking to make a donation on the website.

“However, no one was able to breach through the security,” said Zaidi.

He went on to state that the website was taken down for a day in order to upgrade its security and improve the user experience.

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Archis is a fact-checker and reporter at BOOM. He has previously worked as a journalist for broadsheet newspapers and in communications for a social start-up incubator. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris and a Master's in Media and Political Communication from the University of Amsterdam.

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