The Bharatiya Janata Party’s quest to become the “largest political party on the planet” by 2016 appears to have hit a bump. While its membership drive has managed to enrol tens of lakhs in northern and western states, the response in the southern and eastern states has been tepid.

In over a month, the party has registered 21 lakh new members in Uttar Pradesh and 14 lakh new members in Delhi, according to party leaders. Twelve lakh people have joined it in Gujarat and 10 lakh in Maharashtra, they say.

In stark contrast, the party has managed just a fraction of these numbers in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and eastern states. In the three southern states, the drive gathered less than 2 lakh new members. And in Odisha and North Eastern states, the five lakh mark could not be crossed.

Another race with China

Seeking to expand its support base, the BJP had launched the membership drive on November 1 with much gusto. Even more bluster was shown when it announced that it aims to become the largest political party in the world. “The aim is to overtake the Communist Party of China,” said the party’s vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

At present, the Chinese Communist party has 86 million members, while the BJP has 34 million. Naqvi claims the party has registered 10 million people countrywide during the membership drive.

But has this really expanded the base of a party whose hold has generally been limited to northern and western India?

Missing fanaticism

One primary reason for the muted response in southern and eastern states, political analysts say, is the general disagreement there with the BJP’s ideology.

“The feeling of being Hindu and a majority is most prevalent in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Haryana, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh,” said Dr Rajesh Deva, a political science professor in Delhi University. “So, people from these regions are more likely to associate with the BJP and its ideology.”

In southern and eastern India though, religious supremacy or majority dominion is not welcomed with the same fanaticism, according to Deva.

Battling party feuds

Another factor that has reined in the BJP's expansion in the south is the absence of popular faces. Most prominent leaders in the party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are from northern, western or central states. Barring Venkaiah Naidu and Subramanian Swamy, the party barely has any influential leaders on the national scene. Political commentators also note that since the BJP had coalitions with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Telugu Desam Party in the past, the party did not bother to expand in the south.

Also bruising the party are the simmering feuds in its units in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. “In Kerala, there is trouble between present state party president V Muraleedharan and former president PK Krishnadas,” a senior leader revealed. In fact, according to the leader, the party’s national president Amit Shah went to Kerala in September to put an end to the fight. But soon after he left, the battle resumed.

In West Bengal, state unit president Rahul Sinha is not very popular among the cadre, claimed a state committee member. The party has registered seven lakh new members in the state.