In the battle of Asian giants, score this one for India.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says it has surpassed the Communist Party of China to become the world’s largest political organization, with 88 million members.
A furious enrollment drive by India’s BJP, fueled by the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has registered millions of new members since November. The party has set a target of 100 million members, which would be far higher than the Chinese party’s announced strength of 86.7 million as of mid-2014.
Party president Amit Shah, a close Modi ally, has made achieving the membership record a personal crusade. The statistic may bear little connection to the party’s political strength, but Shah and party leaders view it as a sign of the Hindu nationalist party’s ascendancy in India – and of the country’s bid to challenge China’s supremacy in Asia.
Although the BJP has won majorities in national elections and several state legislatures over the past 12 months, skeptics say the membership numbers are likely inflated. The party counts as a member anyone who calls a telephone hotline and leaves their name and address, but experts say it’s likely that some members may have been counted more than once.
Party leaders spread the word through door-to-door campaigning, billboards and local meetings. They say that more than 140 million additional people have called the hotline without leaving their names, leading officials to believe they can mine those numbers to meet their 100 million goal before the membership drive ends April 30.
“We’ve got unprecedented response,” Dinesh Sharma, the head of the membership drive, said in an interview Monday.
Party officials said the highest number of members, 15 million, is in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, where it is gearing up for state assembly elections in 2017.
While the BJP attempts to sign up anyone who calls the number, the Communist Party of China has been trying to reduce the number of people it allows into the organization.
To meet President Xi Jinping’s goal of recruiting more dedicated cadres to cut down on corruption, the party leadership last year released guidelines saying that new members should be enlisted in a “prudent” manner, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported in June.
As a result, the Chinese party’s list of new members dropped last year for the first time in a decade, according to the party’s Organization Department. A total of 2.4 million new members joined the party in 2013, a 25.5% drop from the year before, according to official reports.
Special correspondent Parth M. N. reported from Mumbai and Times staff writer Bengali from Yangon, Myanmar.