If the Congress had to leverage the occasion of the PBD to garner NRI and PIO support for forthcoming elections, the best option would have been to put up Rahul Gandhi to take centre stage, but the Congress vice-president and widely speculated de-facto PM candidate of the party did not show up, despite the theme for this year’s PBD being engagement with younger members of the diaspora.
And the BJP did literally steal the thunder from under the very feet of the Congress at the annual big bash for the NRIs and PIOs, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2014. There were huge crowds milling outside the Vigyan Bhavan, and it’s jam-packed hall where the Gujarat state session was to be addressed by Narendra Modi on last day of the event overflowed at its brims. Earlier in the day, the Gujarat CM and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate had even taken a snipe at the Prime Minister, referring to the latter’s PBD inauguration speech of a day earlier. Whilst the PM had assured the gathering that good times were just around the corner, Modi punned on it, agreeing with the PM that good times were indeed just around the corner, but we would have to wait for a few more months … the subtext ? The BJP would by then be at the helm, and the Congress, out …
The ‘Metaphorical Modi Magnet’ was at its best again. Modi has always enjoyed a humungous following among Indians overseas. And one of the key reasons, according to retired diplomat and an expert on Indian diaspora affairs JC Sharma, is the fact that his Gujarat Government has does quite a lot to engage with the Diaspora. “The largest number of Indians overseas are Gujaratis, followed by Punjabis. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, on the other hand, has merely found it fit to engage with Indians in the Gulf countries, who in large numbers are from Kerala,” he avers. Gulam Adam, a Zimbwabwe-based doctor and businessman and a third-generation PIO, agrees that the various initiatives undertaken by the Gujarat government, bolstered by the CM’s personal efforts in engaging with Gujaratis overseas, are contributing to the big draw. “I have attended the annual PBD event many times, and find the Gujarat chief minister’s speeches to be the star attraction,” he says.
Andhra Pradesh born Gan Bhakta, an entrepreneur based out of New Jersey, USA, has also closely followed the various initiatives taken by the Gujarat Government’s ‘Non-Resident Gujaratis’ Foundation (NRGF),’ to help NRGs. The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), an organisation rooting for Modi as the next PM for India, had also attempted to scale up engagment with their overseas counterparts in a big push to garner support, by organising a convention in New Delhi just ahead of PBD 2014. The idea seems to be the leveraging of the huge overseas base in an upcoming election. “We have passed a resolution asking for postal ballots for NRIs in the 2014 elections,” says Raj K Purohit, a member of the national executive of the BJP, and co-convener of the first ever global OFBJP meet.
Vayalar Ravi’s MOIA, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, however continues to express its inability to address this demand. “It is only through the efforts of my ministry that NRIs now have got the right to be included in voters’ lists. But they have to come home to their constituencies if they want to cast their ballots. The demand for postal ballots can only be addressed by the Election Commission.”
So the OFBJP convention notwithstanding, the BJP may have lost an opportunity to engage with their overseas supporters in a major way, especially in an election year. “I support the dynamic leadership of Modi and attended the meeting hoping to hear him speak and see him unveil some of his plans to rope us in during the general elections. However, it was very disappointing to find that he was not there at the meeting,” says Sanjay Seth, a management consultant who lives in Tokyo and is a member of OFBJP. Of course, not everyone who attended the OFBJP meet was a BJP supporter. The New York based president of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA), Lal K Motwani, attended the meet as he thinks it is important for various NRI organizations to work jointly towards taking up issues that affect the community around the world. “I went to the meeting for the issues being discussed rather than to show political support to the BJP,” Motwani says. Like him, Thomas Abraham, founder president and Chairman Emeritus of GOPIO, also attended the meet. “It is important for Indians overseas to engage with all political parties in India, especially during an election year. Since the government hosts PBD, that provides a platform for us to meet with Congress leaders and ministers; the BJP gave us a platform to interact with their leaders through the OFBJP meet, which was good.”