How I was pulled into the world’s largest party

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BETTIAH: On Sunday, when the BJP pipped the Communist Party of China to second place with a claimed membership of 8.80 crore, it gave me a new, false and faceless identity: number 1087369859. A membership that I neither sought nor desired suddenly drenched me saffron. I was trap-hunted into the fold of the world’s largest political party.

I was watching the Kiwi batsmen tied to their crease against the gentle outside-the-off-stump spin of Glen Maxwell in the World Cup final when I was drawn out of my crease, err room, by a phone call from an unknown number. The voice at the other end was breaking. My journalistic habit forced me outdoors to return the call that had been inaudible. It could be a call from a friend, relative, fellow journalist or even a source with a tip-off.

I could not get through in two attempts. Before I could try a third time, a ‘doosra’ a text message had me stumped: “Bhajpa me swagat. Kr.(kramank) 1087369859. Apna naam, pata, pin code (sambhav ho to email aur voter ID) 09242492424 par bhej kar prakriya purn karen (Welcome to BJP. No.1087369859. Send your name, address, pin code (if possible email and voter IS) to 09242492424 and complete the process.”

Foxed, I responded with my ‘man ki baat’ text to the said number: “NO. Thank you. I do not wish to be a member.” The BJP was not ready to give up its hunt. In fact, the party was casting its net even wider. Prompt came 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!”

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Infuriated that my neutrality as a journalist had been compromised by this poaching, I began to look for ways to get out of the trap. I made calls suspecting that perhaps others too had been somewhat similarly sucked into the BJP’s embrace. “Mantu the chaiwala next to my office fiddled with my cell phone and I suddenly got a welcome to BJP message,” a page maker with a vernacular daily told me. Sushil Kumar, a businessman, had heard similar tales in Patna.

Clueless that I may have perhaps among countless unsuspecting others been added to make up the numbers, I began exploring a referral somewhere upstairs in the ruling party.

Late at night, Sushil Kumar Modi, the senior BJP leader in Bihar, returned my call. I had left a message for him on remembering that his voice-recorded message had implored me to join the BJP just a few days earlier. “I had seen this system to boost membership drive of parties on a visit to the United States in the early 90s,” Modi said while admitting to the frailties of technology in such an exercise. “Unfortunately, technology like this is both deaf and dumb,” he said, promising that he’ll try to disrobe me of my saffron cloak.

Till that happens, I continue to be dumb-founded.

When asked to comment, BJP secretary Srikant Sharma said, “This is just the initial drive which will continue till April 30. In the next stage, verification of members will be done through door-to-door ‘Jan Sampark’ or public contact programme. In stage three, all new members who are not eligible or do not want to remain members will be weeded out. After that, training camps for active members will be conducted. This is a transparent system, which will reach the next stage only after verification.”

Postscript: Sushil Modi kept his word. A call from his office on Monday afternoon was followed by another from BJP headquarters in New Delhi. Nikhil Singh, the caller, had retrieved my ‘no thanks’ message. “Your name is being removed now,” he politely said, adding that all numbers added would be revisited after the conclusion of the membership drive to remove reluctant new members.

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