Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now the world’s largest political organisation, or so his party claims. With 88 million registered members, the right-wing political party has at least 1.3 million more members than the Communist Party of China, which was established in 1921.
That’s a massive growth for the 35-year-old BJP, which had a little over 35 million members in November 2014. And having added more than 50 million voters in the last five months—since it launched one of the biggest membership drives—the BJP now wants to take that number to 100 million in the next few months.
In contrast, China’s Communist Party wants to become more selective and is overhauling how it vets new entrants.
Meanwhile, India’s grand old party, the Indian National Congress, currently has about 40 million members.
But it has not been an easy journey for the BJP.
Stung by a leadership crisis until 2013, the BJP could hardly make its mark in elections held in 2004 and 2009. Then, Modi happened.
Running a presidential-style campaign, similar to the one in the US, the BJP won a clear mandate in the general elections of 2014. Modi’s party won about 170 million votes in that election. It was also the first time since 1989 when a political party won absolute majority in India.
Since last year, the party has stuck to mediums it used during the elections in 2014 to drive enrolment. Here is a look at how the BJP became the biggest party in the world.
The party used the hashtag #JoinBJP to appeal to its 7 million fans on Facebook and 1.47 million followers on Twitter. Once on the party’s website, one has to only fill in personal details and the BJP would consider it as an enrolment. The membership costs Rs5 ($0.08).
In line with Modi’s penchant for all things digital, the BJP leveraged millions of mobile phones in India to ramp up the number of members.
Potential entrants have to enter their phone numbers on the BJP’s membership page and they are enrolled as members.
Alternately, the party has also set up a toll-free number, where one can even give a missed call to register as a member.
In addition to technology, the BJP also relied on the good old word-of-mouth strategy to ratchet up the numbers. The party trained thousands of its workers across different states to reach more people, especially the uneducated, and get them on board as party members.
“These workers will go to the villages, railway platforms, bus stands and other crowded places, informing people about the BJP’s ideology,” Arun Singh, a BJP member told India Today.
Once the registrations were complete, the party would send the details to the local office for verification. “If the feedback is that the person has a criminal record, the registration will be rejected,” JP Nadda, general secretary of the party had said at the launch of the initiative.
What’s the catch?
The Congress has come out strongly against the numbers. It claim that the numbers are fudged and that some of its own leaders also received text messages thanking them for joining the BJP.
“If it were not tragic for democracy, it would be comic.” Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a spokesperson for the party said. “If by pressing a button you can get one crore membership in one week, you can imagine the commitment to ideology, the commitment to a party, the involvement, participation, connection and closeness.”
The BJP also faced flak when a local school in New Delhi reportedly asked its teachers and students to also register for the party. The Delhi government under Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party had immediately sought a report from the school following the decision.
“I would take these numbers with a pinch of salt,” Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, told Quartz.
“Traditionally, there have been times when people want to be associated with the ruling party. And the BJP has increased its membership base over the past few years. But the unprecedented rise over the past few months raises doubts over the numbers.”
For Modi though, who plans to stay in power till 2024, the huge surge in membership is only likely to strengthen his grip over the Indian electorate.