When you log on to www.bjp.org, there is a message that says "Welcome to the website of the world's largest party". The BJP has 10 crore members, which means one in 10 adult Indians is a member of the saffron party.
This is a staggering statistic. The National Democratic Alliance got about 16 crore votes in 2014, and most of this was the BJP's share. This means that the party has almost as many members as it has voters.
To appreciate its size, let's have a look at the world's second largest political party, the Communist Party of China (CPC).
China is a one-party State run by the CPC. It has over 9 crore members, but membership is not easy. This is because every top position in the government, military, banking, education, healthcare and state-owned enterprises is held by members of the CPC.
In 1921, the Chinese party had only 57 members. In 2014, 2.2 crore Chinese people applied for membership to the CPC, and of them, only 20 lakh were admitted. Membership takes one year, from application to entry. Applications must include a letter that explains why the individual believes in the CPC and the areas in which he or she falls short of the requirement to be a member, and then, the applicant must take a test. If they pass, they are screened further, after which they must produce two current members to recommend them. They are then accepted on probation.
While the BJP does not restrict its membership this way, it is not free. There is a Rs 5 membership fee and a 'voluntary' contribution of minimum Rs 100. Therefore, every member of the BJP contributes Rs 105 or more to join the party. If this is indeed the case, then the party has collected Rs 1,000 crore from these individuals alone. Remarkable. Just below the mention of these fees on the form is another ask for a contribution to the party fund through the Aajiwan Sahayog Nidhi, which is a minimum of Rs 1,000.
It will interest the reader to know that the BJP constitution requires all members to swear an oath that includes the line: "I subscribe to the concept of the Secular State and Nation not based on religion."
The other matter of interest to those who look at the party through its ideology is that the BJP's constitution opens with the lines that it will "bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy…"
Under Amit Shah as the BJP chief, the party launched a programme to attract members through a missed call. The BJP advertises this number in various cities on hoardings. Individuals who call this number are then sent messages and called to see whether they can contribute money or their voluntary services. The party keeps a record of how each individual responds to text messages or calls and whether they contributed their time or money.
Through this mechanism, the party can see over time which individuals can be relied on, and then they concentrate their efforts on them. As the BJP is headed by a leadership that is very popular with the middle class, we can expect the party's strength and the number of volunteers to continue to expand.
Moreover, the party also has the world's largest non-governmental organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to rely on. There are over 55,000 RSS shakhas across India and 6,000 full-time pracharaks, trained for years in how to organise people and who are currently deployed on election duty. One can disagree with every aspect of the RSS and what it stands for, but one has to admit that it has produced an efficient and single-minded army.
All in all, the BJP is in control of one of the most powerful political machines in the world, in terms of people, networks and money.
Looking at the BJP's structure, it surely would have been one of Congress' goals to rebuild its organisation to match that of its saffron rival. However, this has not happened even though Rahul Gandhi has been in the party for 15 years now.
In his first 15 years in India, Mahatma Gandhi led the Champaran, Kheda, Khilafat, non-cooperation and Dandi salt agitations. We do not see any similar grassroots activity from the Congress. We do not see the sort of vision that led the party in earlier decades to mobilise society. It has also, in some sense, lost touch with the grassroots because of its evolution.
The Congress has a body of volunteers called the Seva Dal, founded a year before the RSS. This is the body that offered logistical and manpower support to all the party's pre-Independence agitations. But after Independence, it has been substantially eroded over the decades while the RSS has grown.
Membership, especially paid membership, is a true sign of the popularity of a party. The Congress has a gargantuan task before it, if it has to inspire young Indians to sign up as its members on the basis of its activities and its vision for this country.
Updated Date: Apr 28, 2019 10:28:29 IST