By R Rajagopalan
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political outfit Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stepped up its overseas activities to energise the Indian diaspora as part of its overall preparations for facing the 2024 parliamentary elections.
And a new addition to BJP’s strategy is the Australian diaspora.
Reaching out to the massive diaspora of almost 30 million strong “Overseas Friends of BJP’ is playing a role as the organisation has registered itself in various countries adhering to local rules and regulations including Australia.
The forum in its declaration in different countries has made full disclosures that its activities are political in nature and aimed at promoting its parent Bharatiya Janata Party.
The man behind the BJP’s Department of Foreign Affairs playing a key role in propagating outreach programmes overseas is Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale.
He coordinates between Prime Minister Modi, Indian government ministers including Foreign Minister, S Jaishankar and party big-wigs on issues important to the diaspora. As a member of the BJP’s National Executive, he gets regular feedback. The idea is to integrate the Indian diaspora with Indian culture.
The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) has chapters in more than 40 nations. The forum gets a boost whenever Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visits these countries and addresses various programmes organised by the forum. OFBJP has managed to create a cadre of supporters in 25 to 30 politically significant countries where there is a strong presence of the Indian diaspora.
Diaspora in the past has been used by various prime ministers to project India’s soft power. India’s first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru used it to project India’s image as a non-aligned nation that was trying to make a mark in geopolitics.
His daughter Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister used it to organise, the “India Festival” abroad with the help of “cultural Zarina” Pupul Jaykar. The “festivals” held abroad propagated India’s cultural might. Her son PM Rajiv Gandhi, aided by Sam Pitroda used it to improve India’s image abroad as an IT and technology destination.
Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, however, used the diaspora to a different effect. He not only projected India’s image as a growing power abroad and instilled a sense of pride amongst the Indian community and its culture, but also held politically laced programmes to build his constituency back home.
Described by party insiders as a “force multiplier” Modi and his party members have recognised the importance and influence of the diaspora.
For instance, during the 2019 elections, several members of the diaspora would call back home to explain to their family and friends the place of pride India enjoys in the eyes of foreigners since the arrival of Modi as their leader in India.
PM Modi is scheduled to visit Melbourne and Canberra in February 2023 to participate in the QUAD meet— which is a regional combination of the USA, Japan, Australia and India. As a continuation of his initiative to engage with the diaspora, PM Modi is slated to address a large gathering of the Indian diaspora even during that visit. The preparations have already begun and the diaspora is excited. This correspondent during his current Australia visit is witness to the preparations.
While psephologists crunch numbers collected by enumerators back him what they miss is the unquantifiable benefits that the party receives from such initiatives. BJP thinks that these initiatives would give the party a leg up in the 2024 elections too.
The idea of taking the help of the diaspora for campaigning back home stuck with Modi during one of his overseas trips. During the erstwhile Congress regime Presidents, Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers interacted with sections of the diaspora in limited forums. Only select invitees were called into closely held meetings which were hardly publicised.
Modi opened it up and began to hold mass programmes in conference halls and sports stadiums. These large-scale interactions, powered by OFBJP gave a new heft to Indians living abroad. They could instantly connect with visiting prime minister who was interested in their well-being even though he was only on a short visit.
In the last few years, Rahul Gandhi too has travelled to many countries and held his personal ‘vipassana’, but initiated no political meetings. Regional parties such as DMK, TMC, TRS, YSR Congress etc too have their admirers abroad. They too regularly organise meetings but those are no match to BJP’s meets in their scale and size.
For instance, during Modi’s 2014 visit to Australia more than 50,000 entry passes were issued to members of the diaspora from five prominent states of that country.
PM Modi has continued to engage with the diaspora around the world. He met with the Indian diaspora in Japan in 2021. He engaged with the diaspora in Germany and Denmark earlier this year. Before Covid, Modi had addressed several meetings in the USA, UK and UAE amongst other countries.
The BJP thinks that this will help shore up an additional two to three percentage votes for the party. With well-oiled party machinery working overtime with the aim of winning elections— with Modi as its face and home minister Amit Shah as its strategist— it is no surprise that the party is hopeful of another decisive victory in 2024.
Contributing author: R Rajagopalan is an eminent and veteran Indian journalist and a distinguished political analyst in India. He is the holder of the ‘Long and Distinguished Journalist’ category of the Parliament of India, a rare decoration provided to journalists who have reported on Parliament for more than 40 years. He is a well-known face on TV news channels’ political debates and is contracted to TIMES NOW for election poll analysis. He is also a Tamil and Telugu journalist having worked for Dinamani for more than fifteen years based in New Delhi.
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