Even as Indian-Americans went about their frenetic lives and their own Trumpian stresses, there was an 800 1b gorilla in the room and that was the pending outcome of the Indian elections.
There may be thousands of miles between America and India, but for Indian immigrants and their American-born children, there is abiding interest in the politics of the homeland they left behind.
While for many it is simply about keeping tabs on the outcome, for others it’s a passion, a chance to participate and try to make a difference in the Indian elections. For members of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) it hits particularly close to home.
So on the day, the election results came in from the Lok Sabha, several NRIs were physically in America but in India in spirit. On the 22nd, there were election watch parties with live telecasts in diverse parts of the country: in the Silverado Golf and Country Club in Tampa; the Brookside Clubhouse in Boston; Nanking Indo-Chinese in Artesia, CA; The Sanatan Shiv Shakti Mandir in Texas; Gokuldham Hall in Atlanta, GA; Sheraton Suites in Chicago; and to watch the elections of the world’s largest democracy, NRIS4Modi invited everyone for chai and snacks to the TV Asia auditorium in Edison, New Jersey.
Labour Of Love
For many NRIs it has been a labour of love over the past year, building up a positive impact for Modi, organising Chai Pe Charcha in their communities across the US. “We have a very strong community here,” says Krishna Reddy Anugula, president of the OFBJP. “The majority of NRIs in the US support the BJP and Modi. We’ve done more than a hundred programs in 30 cities. We’ve had chowkidar marches in Edison and a march on Capitol Hill in Washington for which there was a lot of interest from the locals.”
Indian-Americans who cannot vote in the Indian elections have been trying to reach out to those who can influence the outcome – including the Almighty. There have been two huge yagnas in Houston and Parsippany to get blessings and a landslide victory.
The Modi fans have also done a lot of call-a-thons – by Whatsapp, Skype, and video but mostly by phone calls by volunteers to reach over half a million people in India, from Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, from Bengal to Telangana and Karnataka. They called family and friends, neighbours, college friends, and lists from Dial Now, a website in India. Do people actually listen to people from the US? “Absolutely,” says Anugula about the uniqueness of getting a call all the way from the US from people who cannot vote in the elections themselves. “They listen to our opinion as to why they should support Modiji. 99 percent of the time they listen and agree.”
Indeed, the BJP government has won over the diaspora by investing in its welfare, by helping to evacuate Indians in harm’s way in various countries. “Sushmaji has been very proactive and the consulates, not only in the US but around the world have been very active in assisting Indians in the last five years,” says Anugula.
They Love BJP
The BJP has listened to Indians who are living abroad and strengthened their links and loyalty to the motherland. “It has streamlined applications for both “overseas citizen of India” and “person of Indian origin” cards while boosting the e-visa process for foreigners and NRIs,” noted Saumya Shankar in Foreign Policy. “But the most significant political space promised to the diaspora is a proxy voting bill spearheaded by the BJP, which was passed in the lower house of the Indian parliament but is currently stuck in the upper house, where the party does not have a majority. One of Modi’s key election promises is to secure the passage of this bill if re-elected to power.” Shankar also mentions that another bill that allows foreign funding to flow into India’s political parties without interception and scrutiny was passed in March 2018.
Little wonder then, with all Modi’s successes in the international world and India on an upswing in the world scene, NRIs are satisfied with the way things are moving. Indeed back in 2014, there was anger and stress on the part of activists in the US for Modi’s alleged actions against Muslims and other minority groups. There seems to be a more muted response now.
Dr. Hetal Gor, a New Jersey-based gynaecologist and radio host, is a Hindu married to a Muslim and moves in diverse communities. “As in American politics, so too in Indian politics, who is the candidate and what is his vision matter,” says Gor who supports Modi. “I do have an issue about the party being extremist as far as religion is concerned and that’s been a bit of a worry. I’m a Hindu and proud to be a Hindu but our country has been so secular and if we say the minorities should leave, that’s not right. We are protesting the same things here in the US, so how can we have different standards for our motherland?”
Asked about the communal violence outbreaks, she says: “Modiji has done a great job of putting India back on the map. From the perspectives of NRIs, he’s done great. He doesn’t have any agenda except to glorify India. So I hope he doesn’t turn a blind eye to violence and does the right thing for the nation to take it to the next level."
The unbridled enthusiasm of the OFBJP led to some all-night marathons of watch parties. Dr. Prasad Adapa of Washington DC arranged one such jubilant event at Tez, a local restaurant, which ended at 5:00 AM. “Everyone watched, had tea and snacks. Once BJP crossed the half-way mark, we cut a cake – like a birthday party! On the 23rd, there have been celebratory parties for the voluntary chowkidars who have worked very hard for the last three months.”
What mood has he seen, not only in the BJP followers but in the larger NRI community? Adapa finds there is much more support than in 2014 among all NRIs. “These five years have made them confident about Modi’s governance. The Indians in the diaspora see that India is taking its place in the comity of nations on the world stage and that’s what excites them. The second generation like my kids who are college going they are all for Modi. They are all excited because they see the prestige in which India is held in their conversations with their friends and with their white colleagues.”
Many NRIs with long memories will remember the halcyon days of the Indian National Congress when Rajiv Gandhi used to visit the US. Sam Pitroda, who has been an NRI and now lives in Chicago, has been Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress. While congratulating Modi and the BJP he addressed the Congress supporters on Facebook: “ I thank all the members and leaders of the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) for their help, support and hard work during the 2019 campaign. Please do not get disheartened. There are lessons to learn from this journey. Let us work harder together for better tomorrow.”
NRIs, in general, have received the results of the election as welcome news. Indu Jaiswal, RDN and chairperson of the Indian American Forum, interacts with the large Indian community in New York and has seen the approval of most NRIs for the Modi government’s progress in education, women empowerment, health care, sanitation and other initiatives. She feels that most Indians in the Diaspora think of themselves simply as Indians, and not as belonging to any one party and are supportive of the government which furthers the interests of the country.
Friends Carrying Benefits
Meanwhile, the Overseas Friends of BJP have certainly done a remarkable job of making friends and influencing people on behalf of Modi. Today even those who were not actively involved in promoting the BJP got an effusive thank you note from Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale, Dr. Ashwin Johar and Team NRI4NaMO: “The toil of over 1 Lakh Pravasi Bharatiyas synced with the hard work of Karyakartas in India have today ushered in an unprecedented election victory which will be etched in our memories forever.”
Krishna Reddy Anugula, the president of the OFBJP, came to the US 27 years ago. He cannot vote in the Indian elections nor donate financially but his love is unabated. As he says, “I was born in India and I still have the attachment – it’s just a bond which will never go away. After a long time, you see a strong leader like Modi and we have seen his track record - if he says something he does it. His vision for New India includes doubling farmers’ incomes, housing for everyone, drinking water, and healthcare for 50 crore people. He is planning to invest lacs of crores in the infrastructure and that will change the country forever. We are looking forward to the next five years and we are very excited about it.”
The Modi Returns Mission has been accomplished, and if the Chowkidar-in-Chief delivers on all the promises, the love and the devotion of India’s prodigal sons and daughters – and their progeny - is bound to continue.
Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at
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