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Did the BJP cash in on India’s love for missed calls?

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Yesterday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that it was now the world’s biggest political party with 8.8 crore (88 million) members, in a report from PTI. Towards the end of last year, BJP had introduced a #JoinBJP scheme where giving a missed call to 1800-266-2020 would make a citizen a member of the BJP. According to a report in the Financial Times, PM Narendra Modi was the first to use this service after dialing the toll free number. The report added that some Congress leaders had also gotten “Welcome to BJP” messages with primary membership numbers.

Curious beings that we are, we called the number and got the following SMSes:

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A TOI journalist replied to these SMSes with a “No. Thank you. I do not wish to be a member.” text message, to which he got an automated response: “Thanks for the info. Please ask family members, relatives and friends to give a missed call to 18002662020 to join the BJP. Chalo chale Modi ke saath!”. He heard from his friends that they’d gotten similar messages without knowing the source or action which got them enrolled as BJP members.

Also read from the 2013 archives: Arvind Gupta, National Head, BJP’s IT Cell On Trolling: The Internet is an animal they can’t control. People talk about trolling. They believe that if they show their real identity, they will be hounded. There is a relationship between the two.

He contacted Sushil Kumar Modi, a senior BJP leader in Bihar who told the journalist that he’d seen this membership boosting system in the 90s in the US and “admitting the frailty of technology” in this exercise. Sometime later, the journalist got a call from Modi’s office and the BJP Delhi headquarters telling him that he’d been removed as a BJP member on his request. They added that all the numbers would be “revisited” after the membership drive was completed in order to remove “reluctant new members”.

What after the missed call?

Apparently, just the drive is not the end of it. For a bigger picture, BJP secretary Srikant Sharma said that this “initial drive” would continue till April 30. Post this, foot soldiers would be sent door-to-door through a “Jan Sampark” or public contact program. In the third stage, ineligible (no criteria mentioned) new members and citizens who did not wish to remain members would be “weeded out” and training camps would be set up for active members. Through this system, citizens would reach the next stage only through verification, Sharma added.

This is not the first of BJP’s actions. I’ve received several emails from “BJP Communication” in the past, unsure of how my email ID was leaked:

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BJP also offers membership sign ups through its website, other than offering a host of apps. Congress, on the other hand, launched an Android and iOS app for citizens to register as a party member yesterday, ET reported. By comparison, in June last year, Bloomberg reported that the number of people joining the Communist Party in China had dropped for the first time in a decade. New members of the then largest political party in the world fell by 25.5% to 2.4 million in 2013. The total number of party members was reported to be 86.7 million at that time.

Image Credit: Flickr user Ramesh Lalwani

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