Postponing vacation for nationalist cause; Namo.Namo.PM Go…

published on October 17, 2013

NEW DELHI: Holidaying NRIs are a wintertime fixture in India. This winter will be somewhat different. A large number of visiting NRIs will be on what they consider serious business – volunteering for Narendra Modi’s election campaign.

ET has learnt, from talking to NRI organisations, that close to 10,000 Indians living in the US, UK, Europe and Southeast Asian countries will be on Modi duty. They are postponing their annual Diwali or winter holidays.

Some of them will campaign for the BJP’s PM candidate in their native towns and villages while some will work with Modi’s team.

Smita Barooah, an addictions counsellor working in Singapore, is a typical example. She’s planning a three-month sabbatical starting January to work for the BJP campaign in India.

Indian American businessman Chandrakant Patel, who heads Overseas Friends of BJP in the US, will be in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi during the state elections next month. He says nearly 5,000 Indian Americans will fly down to India before next year’s elections. “Our young team here is also sensitising lakhs of Indians in America to register themselves as voters just in case they happen to be present in India during the elections and can vote,” he says.

Around 3,500 NRIs in the UK are planning to come to India closer to the 2014 general elections. “Many of us are postponing our annual December visits to be available to campaign for Mr Modi,” says Amit Tiwari, general secretary of the Overseas Friends of BJP for the UK and Europe. A banker, Tiwari is connecting NRIs wanting to do campaign work during coming state elections with local and regional-level BJP workers.

What explains this unusual degree of direct participation by NRIs in the Modi campaign? “This is the Chetan Bhagat generation, which is seeking change. In Modi, NRIs see an opportunity to drive this change,” says Meghnad Desai, a prominent NRI and commentator.

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says, “BJP’s ardent supporters overseas are sensing victory so they want to participate.” “The fact that Modi is perceived to be corporate-friendly – and most migrant Indians have benefitted from their association with Corporate America – makes him more appealing,” he adds.

Entrepreneur Kalpesh Chavda (34), who is based in Singapore, has been in touch with Arvind Gupta, head of BJP’s IT cell. Chavda says he plans to come down to India for at least five weeks before the elections.

“The mindset of the Indian diaspora is different this time. Earlier they would send emails or SMSes to people back home. Now they want to be part of direct action,” says Tiwari.

Some NRIs say they plan to use their familiarity with social media and Internet campaigns in the West to launch similar campaigns in India. The math is simple, they argue.

Around 120 million Indians will be eligible to vote for the first time in the 2014 elections. And many more are in the 18-25 category. Smartphone usage is rising rapidly in India, and the young are the biggest smartphone users. The share of young voters in total voting population is around 20%, most estimates suggest.

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