Millennium Post

Prime minister of Indian diaspora

Why is Prime Minister Narendra Modi wooing the Indian Diaspora? While Modi’s critics say that he is building up the brand Modi abroad, Modi is clear that with their support he could build a better image for himself. There are about 100 million Indians living abroad and he obviously feels that their power should be harnessed for the growth of India and for his own image.

Modi’s visit abroad – to Bhutan, Nepal, United States and now Australia and Fiji have shown that he can attract the Indians living there from the way the BJP organized his rallies using the NRIs. More is planned in the coming months when he goes to Canada and U.K where a sizeable section of the NRIs live. Huge amounts were collected and spent for these rallies. The rally at Madison square garden in New York was a classic example. In London it is planned to have at least one lakh audience.

One can understand the reason for Modi wooing the Indians living in the US. They are slowly finding their way to occupy important positions in administration as well as other spheres of influence.   Some like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley have even become governors. There are others who are holding important positions in the State Department.

Secondly, historically the BJP has been more involved in mobilizing the NRIs than the Congress. For decades now, the BJP and its sister organisations have worked actively among Indians in North America and elsewhere-propagating Hindu culture, yoga and building temples. In its 1996 election manifesto, the BJP addressed non-resident Indians, claiming that the ‘millions of children of Mother India settled abroad,’ as an asset to the country. By contrast, the Congress party has been slower to respond to the interests of its supporters. For instance the relationship between it and the Indian National Overseas Congress in the US appears less efficient.

Initially the diaspora was not organised. Gradually it grew in size and in influence and also became more organized since the early nineties. The Narasimha Rao government also saw their potential but it was during Vajpayee’s time from 1998 – 2004 it became a powerful lobby. The NRI lobby put pressure on the US government and got the sanctions lifted after Pokhran nuclear blasts. It was the Diaspora, which swung into action during the Manmohan Singh regime, which culminated in the signing of the Indo – Nuclear deal in 2008. Bush went out of  his way in befriending India.

So overwhelmed was Vajpayee with the diaspora that he even appointed Bhiswa  Agnihotri, an NRI as an ambassador for the Diapsora in the US but Washington refused to recognize two ambassadors. It was Vajpayee who organized the Pravasi Diwas, which is continuing till today.   The ministry of NRI affairs has also grown in its sphere.

As the Diaspora has become more powerful in the US and elsewhere, it is only natural for Modi to make use of it and market himself and India. In fact it was this secret weapon, which Modi has been using successfully to create an impact to whichever country he has visited as the Prime Minister.  Modi must have learnt a lesson or two from the powerful Chinese and the Jewish lobby.

He had befriended the Diaspora even as Gujarat chief minister. Overseas friends of the BJP co-hosted a luncheon in Capitol Hill in early March 2002 with two other major Indian-American organizations, after the Godhra carnage. It was among the organizations that invited Modi as guest speaker in 2005. Modi invited the rich NRIs to come and invest in Gujarat.  The ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ was meant for showcasing the state. The NRIs had helped him during the 2014 campaign by their donations and many landed in India to support Modi.

Prime Minister has at least four advantages vis a vis the Diaspora. First Gujaratis living abroad are quite affluent. They are his core supporters abroad. Secondly they are proud that Modi, a Gujarati has become the prime minister. This was visible in the Madison Square Garden rally where several Gujaratis had come from all over the US to hear him.  He went to meet President Obama with the strong support of the Indian Diaspora.  The same thing happened during his visit to Nepal, Bhutan, Australia and Fiji.

The third is that he has used them to change his image abroad as a doer, pushing back his critics who called him a butcher of Gujarat after the Godhra riots. In fact since the day he was nominated as the BJP prime ministerial candidate, his effort has been to change his image in India and abroad.  The fourth is that there was apprehension that Modi’s lack of experience in foreign affairs might be a handicap and he wants to prove that it was no so.

Why do the NRIs flock to him? Modi has successfully marketed himself abroad. They say that he speaks about things, which are of concern to them. From dual citizenship to simplifying visas or opening branches of Indian banks to fast-tracking free trade agreement, the NRIs appreciate that Modi is doing now. ?The NRIs’ bond with Modi is evidently quite strong. IPA
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