Benefit of government schemes ‘only’ to BJP members? 

BJP promises houses, regular supply of water and benefits of central government schemes to attract new members in Telangana

Benefit of government schemes  ‘only’ to BJP members? 

Vikas Shah and Aiman Siddiqui

“BJP now has almost 15 Crore members!

It is the largest organisation in human history

If BJP were a country, it would be the 9th largest If evenly spread out,

BJP would have 150 members in each of the one million polling booths in India

Can anything vanquish BJP?”

The ecstatic tweet by Dr Praveen Patil was an endorsement of the frequently made claim by the Bharatiya Janata Party that it is indeed the largest political party in the world. Frequent membership drives by the party through missed calls etc. have been a feature in the last several years. And while there can be no independent audit, if the claims are taken at face value, every fourth Indian adult would be a BJP member in the country!

But while membership drives have been turned into political events by the party, curiously in Telangana at least people are not even asked to contribute anything to be a member. There is no membership fees, it would seem if people are to be believed. Fatima, a widow with 10 children, for example proudly claimed that BJP Working President J.P. Nadda personally reached her lane and handed over a membership card to her. She did not pay any membership fee though, she added.

But even more curiously, the membership card was taken back from her the very next day. A deeply disappointed Fatima cannot explain why.

“It was around 8:30 pm on August 18 when I was filling water outside our house. The water comes only once in two days in our locality and that too for just half an hour, so all of us were out there, collecting every drop of water which would hopefully last for the next two days,” she recalled.

“I saw a group of men approach my house. My landlord was accompanying the group with saffron scarves around their neck and with flags in their hands. As soon as he saw me, he came forward and exhorted us to be available the next day when a “big leader from Delhi” would be visiting us, he said.

“As he saw us struggling to collect water, he told us that this was our opportunity to tell the big leaders from Delhi about our problems. “Unne bola bade leedaran aa rahe hain. Abhi hi samay hai unko bolne ka hamari pareshaani”... he added that the big leader would also address our concern for better housing.”

“I am a widow and a mother of 10 children, if my problems could be solved by joining a party then why not give it a shot, I told myself. Additionally, the house where I live was given to us on a monthly rent of Rs 5000 by K Lakshman when he was our elected MLA…and because he was also going to be there, I did not want them to get angry,” she explained.

I’ve been a voter for years, but we get nothing. But my landlord said if we became BJP members, we would start receiving all the benefits. My landlord seemed to be making a convincing point when he told us that while the party might not work for voters, it would surely work for the welfare of its own members.”

A crestfallen Fatima is unable to explain why her much valued BJP membership card was taken away. The neighbours wonder if it was all a photo-op or if the party does not want Muslim members to corner benefits. One of them speculates that local BJP leaders could be taking the central leaders for a ride by mobilising crowds but ensuring that membership cards are not misused. Life for Fatima and her neighbours are back to square one.

After returning to power with overwhelming majority, Narendra Modi and Home Minister and party chief Amit Shah had announced a national membership drive. While Modi did it from is political home turf Varanasi, Shah surprised many by inaugurating the drive on the same day from Telangana, a state where BJP’s presence was seldom felt before the results of Lok Sabha elections were announced.

Back in May, when the results of the Lok Sabha Polls were still due, the political situation in Telangana seemed both stable and sedate with Chief Minister K Chandrasekar Rao’s Telugu Desam Party sitting pretty, almost an automatic choice of the people following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh six years ago. The Congress was pushed to the position of the leading opposition party followed by Independents. The BJP was nowhere in the scene.

But what changed after May 23, 2019? “Nothing much,” says Professor of Journalism at Osmania University PL Vishweshwar Rao. “Telangana is not the only state but one out of many where they want to make inroads, especially in states where they are weak.” Political analysts endorse the view and explain the reasons for the hyperactivity of the BJP in Telangana.

“Number one, it was both unprecedented as well as unexpected even for the BJP to get four Lok Sabha seats from the state. As they moved from one MLA in the state in November, 2018 to four MPs from the same state in May 2019, they felt a surge was possible,” says Rao.

“Secondly,” he continues, “it is easier to infiltrate Telangana at this moment because TRS is the only active regional party that still enjoys mass support. It’s easy to topple just one party, especially after the sharp decline of a regional party like TDP as well as a national party like Congress. BJP has to only fight TRS right now and that’s why it believes Telangana is ripe for plucking.

Rao adds, “In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it is tough for the BJP to make inroads. In Karnataka, it is already in the saddle. It is natural that it would try to gain in Telangana by polarising people.”

“Telangana, with its history and politics of liberation, is an easy prey for polarising the views of the entire country, just like they are doing through Kashmir.” “The state has a higher population of Dalits, OBCs and Muslims,” he points out.

The issues that the lone BJP MLA in the state, Raja Singh, raises include rants that “people from the other community have shops near temples. They should either vacate the shop or convert.” Additionally, the BJP has demanded that September 17 be celebrated as the Telangana Liberation Day, as it was on this day in 1948 when the then state of Hyderabad integrated with India.

BJP’s narrative has been, “those opposing the move are the supporters of the atrocities unleashed on Hindus by Razakaras and their private army.” Amit Shah has been invited by the state BJP to address the public on September 17 and BJP has started describing those against the celebration as ‘anti-nationals’.

Yet, experts believe, Telangana will be a tough nut to crack. “Telangana is known for its peoples’ movement. It was a people’s movement that got us a separate state. We live together, fight together and win together. That is why this state is also known for the secularism” says Rao adding “BJP is trying to achieve the Herculean task of changing the mindset of people.”

“I still believe that BJP’s wish to make inroads in the Telangana politics is not going to be a piece of cake. Even if they do it is going to be a slow process,” says Rao

The BJP national working president J.P. Nadda landed in Hyderabad for a two-day visit, a day ahead of the extended deadline of August 20 for completing the membership drive.

After his arrival and an all-out attack on the TRS government in the state, the party claimed that as many as 20,000 people, mostly workers of the Congress party, the TRS and the TDP had joined its ranks. But despite extending the deadline again to August 25 and BJP pulling out all the stops, the target fell short by over four lakh.

“The counting is going on, but somewhere around 14 lakh people have joined us,” says K Lakshman, the Telangana BJP chief. “It’s a huge number and our campaign was successful,” he assures.

But there is more to the story than meets the eyes. Some of the members who joined the party were unaware of the fact that they were joining the BJP. Some joined the party out of fear. And some, because they were promised benefits but only if they joined the party.

On the second day of his two day visit, Nadda reached the Bagh Lingampally area of Hyderabad and distributed membership cards to many, mostly Muslims. He and the BJP wanted to portray that even the Muslim community was favouring the saffron party.

The newly inducted ‘members’ were being tutored by the Pramukh of membership drive of the area to say that the BJP government had integrated Kashmir and abolished Triple Talaq as the reason for them to join the party. However, the new members had a completely different story to tell.

“I did not know who was giving what piece of paper to me. Our landlord is a good person. He asked us to be present as certain big leader was coming. Wo bole tumhare ko pakka makaan milega, tumhara paani bhi roz aane lagega (They will solve all your problems, provide a brick house and ensure regular water supply),” said one of the many ‘BJP members’.

Sujatha, a shopkeeper in the Bagh Lingampally says, “sahab, iss ilaake me paani do roz me ek baar aata hai. Paani se zyada to leedaran log aa jate.” (We see more leaders than water supply here these days).

She points to a hand pump installed right outside her shop. “This was installed a day ahead of the visit by the ‘big leader’ (JP Nadda) from Delhi. When leaders come, some work do get done and then it’s back to normal.”

Nagma is upset over probing questions. She asks, “Hamare ko ye makaan Lakshman ne diya. Abhi unne hame bulaya, ham nai ayege aur vo hame makaan se nikal denge toh ham kaha jayenge? Ap rakhenge hame?” (Our dwelling units were arranged by Lakshman. Now that he called us, how could we refuse? If we refuse and he throws us out, where will we go? Are you going to provide us with houses?)

Raghav, a former student of the Arts faculty at the Ambedkar College recalls one of his professors, a BJP member, assuring him of the benefits of joining the party. “All of us come from poor background and face a lot of difficulties in our daily lives. Sir told us that if we became members of the party, our problems would be solved by the national leaders.” Hundreds of former and current students joined BJP on the day of Nadda’s visit.

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