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Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2014: Modi acts as a magnet; but did BJP lose an opportunity?

Overseas friends of BJP are demanding postal ballots so that they can participate in elections this year.

, ET Bureau|
Jan 12, 2014, 04.36 AM IST
Overseas friends of BJP are demanding postal ballots so that they can participate in elections this year.
Overseas friends of BJP are demanding postal ballots so that they can participate in elections this year.
Did the BJP steal the thunder from the Congress at the annual party for the NRIs and PIOs, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2014 in Delhi? The answer lay in the packed hall and the huge crowd jostling outside Vigyan Bhavan, where on Thursday the Gujarat state session was being addressed by Narendra Modi.

Earlier, on the same day, the Gujarat CM and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate had taken a potshot at the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, when he referred to the latter’s speech at PBD 2014.

Whilst the PM assured the gathering that good times were around the corner, Modi took a jibe saying that those good times would come in the next few months — implying that by then BJP would win the Lok Sabha polls and Modi would be crowned PM.

If the Congress had to leverage PBD to garner NRI and PIO support for the elections, one option would have been to put Rahul Gandhi on centre stage; but the Congress vice-president and widely speculated PM candidate didn’t show up, despite the theme this year being engagement with younger members of the diaspora.

Modi Magnet

Modi has always had a huge following among Indians overseas. And one of the reasons, according to JC Sharma, a retired diplomat and an expert on Indian diaspora affairs, is that the Gujarat government under Modi has done a lot to engage with the diaspora. “It is well known that the largest number of Indians overseas are Gujaratis, followed by Punjabis. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, on the other hand, has only engaged with Indians in the Gulf countries, who are in large numbers from Kerala,” he adds.

Gulam Adam, a doctor and businessman based in Zimbabwe and a third-generation PIO, agrees that the various initiatives unveiled by the Gujarat government along with the chief minister’s personal efforts in engaging with Gujaratis overseas are a 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 told ET Magazine.

Gan Bhakta, an entrepreneur based in New Jersey, who is from Andhra Pradesh, too, has followed the various initiatives unveiled by the Non-Resident Gujaratis’ Foundation (NRGF), which has been set up by the Gujarat government, to help NRGs. The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), the organization rooting for Modi as the next PM, had tried to engage with their overseas supporters in a bigger way this year by organizing a convention in New Delhi just ahead of PBD 2014.

The idea was to leverage the huge overseas base in an election year. “We have passed a resolution demanding postal ballot for NRIs in the 2014 elections at the meet,” said Raj K Purohit, member of the national executive of the BJP and co-convener of the first ever global OFBJP meet. But the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs continued to express its inability to address this demand.

“It is through the efforts of my ministry that NRIs have now got the right to be included in the voters’ lists, for which they have to come home to cast their ballots. However, the demand for postal ballots can only be addressed by the election commission,” minister of overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi told ET Magazine during the PBD event. The OFBJP convention notwithstanding, many insiders feel 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 himunveil 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.

Political Engagement

Of course, not everyone who attended the OFBJP meet is a staunch supporter of BJP. Lal K Motwani, the New York-based president of the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA), attended the convention because he thinks it is important for various NRI organizations to work jointly towards taking up issues that affect the entire community around the world.

“I went to the meeting because of 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 the Global Organization for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), too, attended the OFBJP meet. “It is important for Indians overseas to engage with all political parties in India, especially in 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,” he says.

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