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HomePoliticsCongress membership drive strongest in Telangana, Karnataka; lacklustre in poll-bound Gujarat

Congress membership drive strongest in Telangana, Karnataka; lacklustre in poll-bound Gujarat

The two states account for 23 per cent of the new Congress recruits, The Print has learnt. But here's why the party shouldn't gloat just yet.

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New Delhi: The Congress’ membership drive showed good results in Telangana and Karnataka but had relatively poorer results in Gujarat, Kerala, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh — the latest figures from the party’s recruitment drive, accessed by ThePrint, shows.

Numbers from the Congress party’s latest recruitment drive that began on 1 November and ended on 15 April, showed that the party has added 5.6 crore new members across the country.  The numbers also show that of that figure, 2.6 crore of the new members were added through its digital membership drive, done through an in-house “membership app”. However, the party plans to digitise the rest soon, it said in a statement.

For context, the Congress had secured about 11.9 crore votes in the 2019 general elections.

Although a party’s voter base does not exclusively consist of its own members, it could be indicative of a party’s position at a certain place.

For comparison, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which conducted its membership drive in 2019-2020, had over 18 crore new members by the end of its drive, the party claimed. This number is almost 81 per cent of the 22 crore votes it secured in the 2019 general elections.

The drive in each state was helmed by the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC) or the Congress state units.

All India Congress Committee General Secretary KC Venugopal told ThePrint that Congress was one of the few parties that conducted a membership drive digitally to attract the country’s youth.
“For the first time in the party’s 135-year-old history, it has embarked on a digital membership drive that will now form the basis for internal elections as well as organisation building,” Venugopal said. “It is also a matter of great happiness that the digital membership drive has evinced great interest from the the people of the country, especially younger supporters of the Congress party.”

Going strong in Telangana, Karnataka

Numbers from the Congress’s latest recruitment drive show that the party did best in Telangana and Karnataka —  two states where it currently sits in the opposition. The two states account for 23 per cent of the new Congress recruits.

In Karnataka, the party added 75 lakh new members. For comparison, the Congress polled 1.39 crore votes in the last assembly election in the state in 2018. This means that the number of members that the party has secured is almost 55 percent of the total number of votes it got at the time.

The party, however, performed best in Telangana, where it has added 55 lakh new members in Telangana. Again, the party secured over 58 lakh votes in the 2018 assembly elections. This means that the party’s membership numbers in the state are almost equivalent to the number of votes it secured.

These numbers are especially significant given that both Karnataka’s and Telangana’s assembly elections are due next year.

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The lows: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kerala, MP

Numbers show that Congress has done relatively poorly in Gujarat, Kerala, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh — all states where it is believed to have a sizeable following.

In Gujarat — a state that will go to polls later this year — the party recruited 10 lakh members: Only 10 per cent of the 1.24 crore votes the party secured in 2017 assembly elections.

The numbers were similar for Rajasthan, where the party is currently in power: The party added 15 lakh new members — just 10 per cent over the 1.39 crore votes the party secured in the 2018 assembly elections.

Credit: Ramandeep Kaur
Credit: Ramandeep Kaur

The party’s recruitment numbers were low in both Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, both states where it is the principal opposition.

In Kerala, where the United Democratic Front coalition led by the Congress is the principal opposition with 47 seats in the 140-member state assembly, the party added 10 lakh new members — just 12 per cent of the whopping 81.9 lakh voters it had in the 2021 elections. This number was much less than the 50-lakh target given to the state unit, prompting the state’s Congress chief K. Sudhakaran to seek an additional extension this week despite the fact that it was already extended once by 15 days on 31 March — the original deadline.

In Madhya Pradesh, likewise, the party could add only 10 lakh members — 6 per cent over 1.55 crore voters in 2017 assembly elections.

Assembly elections for both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are due next year.

On the other hand, the party performed relatively better in Chhattisgarh, where the party has its own government and where assembly elections are due next year: the party had 20 lakh new enrollments as against 61.36 lakhs voters in 2018.

Unlike the Congress, the BJP had either stuck to manual registrations or allowed recruitment through “missed calls” — a system by which a person could register themselves by calling a  designated number.

RP Singh, the spokesperson of the BJP, said the low numbers in Gujarat and Rajasthan could be because of poor cadre mobilisation.

“The party may have failed to get their cadre to participate actively in the membership drive,” he said.

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Other states

In Maharashtra, another state to go completely digital, Congress registered 45 lakh new members: a 51 per cent of the 87.52 lakh votes it secured in the 2019 assembly election.  Mumbai alone saw the party add 10 lakh new voters, sources in the party said.

This is significant given that the Congress is part of  Maharashtra’s ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government under Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Himachal, which will also see assembly elections at the same time as Gujarat, saw 1.5 lakh new voters. Here the party had secured 15 lakh votes in the 2017 assembly election.

Party sources told ThePrint that the five states that went to polls recently — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, and Uttarakhand — recruited only a few thousand new members because their state units were busy with elections. A drive will be held once again in these states after 1 May, the party sources said.

In terms of demographic distribution, the party says that of the 2.8 crore members who enrolled digitally, 59 per cent were under 35 years of age. Besides, 42 per cent of the total numbers were women.

Digital membership

Telangana and Karnataka Congress units went completely digital in their membership drive.

Congress sources claim the party had 100 per cent booth coverage in Telangana— which means that all booths in the state registered at least one new member. This number was 99 per cent in Karnataka.

One of the metrics used by the party during the recruitment drive was to see how many members register in each booth. One of the ways this was done was by using two data points — booths having at least one new member and booths having at least five new members.

Sources in the party claim that in both states, over 75 per cent of its recruitment booths had more than 5 new members.

The people responsible for ensuring enrollment at the lowest level of the drive are called  “enrollers”. These enrollers are “active members” of the party, a party functionary active in the recruitment drive told ThePrint.

There are typically two enrollers for each booth — one male and one female — the source said. The party said in a statement that were 5 lakh enrollers who were part of the drive across the country. About 76 per cent of these enrollers were under 35, and 44 per cent were women, a source in the party added.

The system of e-membership depends on these enrollers to a large extent. Once a potential new member downloads the membership app, they can only register on it if an enroller gives them access. This is done to ensure “transparency and authenticity”, says the party source.

“It also helps maintain transparency,” the party source said.

Final names are publicly displayed at each booth, and the public’s given an opportunity to contest it, the source said.

“For example, if the name of a BJP karyakarta gets added to the list, we’ll know exactly which enroller was responsible for their membership and take up the issue with them,” the party source said.

The enroller is expected to go door-to-door to recruit members, said a statement from by the party released on Friday.

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Membership drive and internal elections

The membership drive becomes crucial to the party because it gives the leadership an “accurate estimate” of the number of members eligible to vote in the organisational elections that begin in July, a party source said.

“Once all the names and numbers come in, they will be sent to the Central Election Authority (CEA) of the party, which will now have a ready list of the collegium for the block, district, and PCC elections,” a party functionary who is a part of the team organising the membership drive told ThePrint.

The drive will also allow the party leadership to gauge the work done by existing members of the party and how much clout they hold within the party, the source said.

The key, said Praveen Chakravarty, chairman of the All India Congress Committee’s analytics department, is quality and not quantity.

“Every member is verified at three levels — voter ID, photograph, and phone number. The drive is strictly access controlled and only verified enrollers can use the membership app,” Chakravarty said.

The membership card that is then generated has QR code that the party could use to verify its authenticity.

The party incentivises enrollers who do well, the functionary said: They have a chance to contest internal elections to become state Congress delegates or AICC members who vote in orgnanisational elections.

“Enrollers who manage to get more than 50 members enrolled in their booth will get this opportunity,” the functionary told ThePrint.

The party could also consider extending this system for MPs and MLAs in the future, the party functionary said.

This means that those seeking tickets could be asked to show how many new members they have managed to recruit and how much clout they hold, the party source said.

For now, though, this system will be restricted to organisational election, the source said.

The BJP said the recruitment drive aside, the Congress should focus on strengthening its “internal democracy.”
“The people of this country are no longer accepting dynastic politics because they respect internal democracy,” said BJP spokesperson RP Singh. “The Chautalas, the Badals, everyone has been ousted by the people.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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