London-based software professional Santosh Gupta has taken a six-month break from his hectic work schedule—he is on a mission to secure a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ramesh Shah, 70, is also in India on the same mission, but separately. Both Gupta and Shah are part of the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), the ruling party’s foreign cell that has 25 chapters across the world. With just weeks to go for the first phase of the general elections, hundreds of such BJP supporters are campaigning in India or from abroad—overseas warriors of the BJP’s vast army of supporters in the battle of ballots.
Gupta and his 30-member team are in India since November; they are among 300 professionals from the UK chapter in India. Last week, Gupta’s team visited a number of colleges and met with students in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. He is content with the positive feedback they are receiving, except from students of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The team is primarily targeting first-time voters, says Gupta. “Young voters were impressed when we spoke about India’s image makeover. We explain to them how India has changed into a superpower under Modi,” says Gupta, 47.
Though such a campaign may impact only a small percentage of India’s 900 million-odd voters, the BJP knows that every bit will come in handy in the polls. Modi is widely expected to win a second term, but analysts say the party could face a stiff challenge from the opposition.
Gupta admits that unemployment is a major concern among students; however, the team convinces young voters about the prospects of ‘Make in India’ and other achievements of the Modi government. For those who doubt the veracity of claims, the team has infographics and employment data as “valid evidences”.
Gupta, who moved to London a decade ago, is convinced that only the BJP can bring development to the country. Gupta has shut down his consultancy firm for these six months, and is not lamenting about the loss he is going to incur. “It’s for a bigger purpose,” he says. Besides this, the team has also charted out a slew of innovative plans such as phone campaigns and social media blitz to find resonance among voters.
Considered one of the most influential communities in the world, the Indian diaspora plays a pivotal role in elections, say observers. Reports also say that the diaspora was the biggest donors for the BJP in 2014. Buoyed by their impressive role in the 2014 election, the BJP is tapping into the potential of the community this time in a big way. According to Vijay Chauthaiwale, head of BJP’s foreign affairs cell, the party received more than 6,000 responses from 27 countries to volunteer on the ground as well as through social media platforms.
The BJP’s NRI supporters flag off car rallies in Birmingham.
“Several people have created WhatsApp groups of friends, family and acquaintance, sending out requests to re-elect Modi,” Chauthaiwale says. He adds that the party is reaching out through social media in a big way.
In London, Suresh Mangalagiri, one of the coordinators of the UK chapter, is gearing up for the second leg of the campaign. Mangalagiri has been working round-the-clock for the past three months. “I am ready to sacrifice my work for the sake of my country,” says the IT professional who runs his own firm. Hailing from Hyderabad, Mangalagiri has been working in London for the past 17 years and feels that Modi has changed the fortunes of the diaspora. “Indians are being recognised like never before, thanks to Modi’s charismatic appeal,” he says. He doesn’t think Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya’s cases have cast any shadows on the popularity of the prime minister. “They left the country because of their fear of Modi,” he says.
Mangalagiri’s typical day starts at 7 am in front of his laptop, scrolling through his Twitter and Facebook timelines. Through the day, he is busy giving final touches to promotional events, coordinating with the social media team and meeting ‘karyakartas’ of the core team, which executes the plans. Several team members are also engaged in maintaining a full-fledged social media team. The British Indian diaspora, comprising 1.4 million people, commands considerable influence in the country.
Campaigning plans were hammered out as early as August last year and the team has been meticulously carrying out the plans. “Around 5,000 volunteers have signed up for campaigning,” says Mangalagiri.
To reach out to a wider audience, the UK chapter has carried out bike and car rallies in early March. And the rallies, which covered several cities, received an unprecedented response, says Mangalagiri.
The chapter is also planning a ‘kavi sammelan’ and ‘UK run for Modi’ in early April. ‘A town hall with students’ and ‘dance of development’ programmes are planned towards the end of the month, he says. Besides that, the volunteers are also building a strong network by distributing merchandise like NaMo T-shirts, hoodies and caps.
The United States chapter of the BJP is also capturing the imagination of the sizeable Indian community. Georgia-based medical professional Dr Vasudev Patel, who is in charge of the ground operations, says Modi made India more prominent in the world map.
Patel, who moved to the US in 1984, shares a personal rapport with Prime Minister Modi. “I have been working with Modi since 1975,” says Patel, who belongs to Mehsana in Gujarat. The campaign is on full swing with ‘chai pe charchas’ being held on a weekly basis in at least 20 cities.
With the elections drawing close, Patel spends at least two hours on a daily basis to coordinate with social media and friends back home. “Every week, a group of at least 150 professionals gather at famous places like World Coca Cola Centre or Times Square, make small videos on the Modi government and post it on social media,” he says. The US chapter, which boasts a membership of 6,000, also has a dedicated team that has been assiduously working to execute plans. Car rallies are also being held in various states to garner support of the Indian community.
Patel says that even senators and governors acknowledge India as a growing power, which wasn’t the case before. “We held a candle march after the Pulwama incident, in which thousands turned up. One senator also took part in the march without any invitation,” says Patel.
Ramesh Shah, who is currently touring villages in India, sums up why the diaspora community passionately bats for the BJP and Modi. Shah, who has been in India since last November, has visited villages in Jharkhand, Gujarat and a few other states. “No other leader connected with the diaspora the way our PM did. He inspires me to do more at this age,” says Shah, who hails from Aravalli in Gujarat. A US-based retired engineer, Shah campaigns along with his wife. “I feel powerful because of the strong leadership.”