Eight crore members in 143 days: How BJP is changing Indian politics

Aditya Menon
Aditya MenonMar 23, 2015 | 19:50

Eight crore members in 143 days: How BJP is changing Indian politics

If the figures announced by the Bharatiya Janata Party are to be believed, the party has managed to enrol more than eight crore members in its ranks in less than five months. The BJP claims that it has now become the world's largest democratic party.

BJP president Amit Shah is naturally pleased. "Congratulations to our hardworking karyakartas & new members on crossing 8 crore members mark," Shah tweeted.


The BJP launched its membership drive on November 1 last year and it has managed to reach the eight crore mark in just 143 days.

Breaking the BJP's march down in ODI cricket fashion, party general secretary Ram Madhav tweeted:

The details tweeted by Madhav show that the defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections did not reduce the momentum of the BJP's membership drive. Roughly three crore people "joined" the BJP after the Delhi result.

The bulk of the members have enrolled through the missed call campaign, whereby people could become a BJP member by calling a particular number. The number was circulated widely on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and disseminated through bulk messages and mailers as well.

A major concern for the party is, of course, bogus membership. Many of the missed calls might not be genuine as state units could use various methods to inflate the number of members to showcase its success. "Even if half the missed calls are genuine, 4 crore is still a huge number," a functionary involved with the BJP's membership drive in Maharashtra told this writer.


He is right. Just to put the numbers in perspective, the total votes polled by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections is a little more than 17 crore. The Congress garnered 10.6 crore votes. If four crore people want to be openly identified with the BJP, even if they don't actively work for the party, is a significant achievement.

Successful membership drives don't necessarily translate into electoral success. For instance, when Rahul Gandhi launched the Youth Congress membership drive, one of the states where it achieved the most success was Tamil Nadu. But it hardly yielded any dividends for the Congress electorally, though there were signs of success in the 2009 elections in which a young leader like Manicka Tagore was elected to the Lok Sabha.

The BJP, too, will face the same obstacles. For a spurt in membership to translate into votes, three things are of paramount importance. First, those who have become members need to be willing to work for the party. Second, the party needs leaders or a favourable social arithmetic to convert sympathisers into voters.

To achieve the first aim, the BJP plans to launch the second phase of its membership drive, which involves engaging with those who have "joined" the party. Their main aim is to ensure that a maximum number of people actively devote their time and energy to the party, instead of remaining passive members. It is also planning to organise training programmes for select groups of new members.


The second aim is where the RSS comes in. The Sangh is holding parallel outreach campaigns to bring states outside its main areas of influence as well as backward classes and Dalits into its fold.   

A party which has managed to crack supporters' transition from sympathiser to member to campaigner, is the Aam Aadmi Party. It's membership drives have been highly successful in mobilising people to become active campaigners for the party. Even the BJP and Congress leaders concede that a person who gives a missed call to the AAP number is much more likely to volunteer than a person who gives a missed call to the BJP number.

The BJP might have to prepare itself for an eventuality that its drive in certain states might not yield electoral dividends in the short-term. For instance, it has managed to enrol a significant number of members in states like West Bengal and Kerala, where despite the buzz surrounding the party, it doesn't have a leader or much of a machinery. On the other hand, in Chhattisgarh, which it has ruled since 2003, the membership drive's success has been below expectations.

Another section where the BJP's outreach hasn't achieved much success is among the religious minorities. For instance in Uttar Pradesh, it's membership drive among Muslims had to be prematurely aborted. In fact, many of those who enrolled now want their membership cancelled, largely because of the communal remarks made by BJP leaders like Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Yogi Adityanath. However, reaching out to Muslims doesn't seem a priority for BJP as both Jyoti and Adityanath have recently been made part of the BJP's national executive. On the other hand Union minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla couldn't find a place.

Irrespective of whether the BJP succeeds in converting missed calls into election victories, it is clear that the party has changed how political battles are fought in the country. The BJP, as well as the AAP in its sphere of influence, have shown that from now on parties will be permanently in election mode. The old system in which parties went into hibernation until a year before elections, is now a thing of the past.

Last updated: March 23, 2015 | 19:50
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