The BJP’s US branch outstrips its Congress counterpart

01 April 2014

LATE LAST DECEMBER, about 150 supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party gathered in an auditorium at the Edison, New Jersey, headquarters of TV Asia, a pro-BJP network that targets the South Asian community. The non-resident Indian and Indian-origin attendees were members of the US chapter of the Overseas Friends of the BJP, the official international arm of the party. On the stage was a life-size poster of Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, and a garlanded shrine to Swami Vivekananda, the late-nineteenth-century Hindu revivalist. The mood was jubilant—just two weeks earlier, the BJP had won assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. OFBJP-USA leaders gave enthusiastic speeches about the “Modi effect” that had swept through those states, and which they hoped would carry the party to victory in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The excitement was tinged with apprehension about the fight ahead—not against the Congress or its foreign counterpart, the Indian National Overseas Congress, but against a new threat: the upstart Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP’s unforeseen success in the Delhi assembly elections, and the importance of its international supporters in achieving that victory, dominated several speeches. Arun Ayyagari, the manager of a local information technology company and one of the OFBJP-USA’s younger members, gave a twenty-five-minute presentation on the importance of emulating the AAP’s tactics, particularly its online activism, to help the BJP in the coming polls.

Balaguru T, a national council member of the OFBJP-USA and the CEO of a New Jersey IT consulting company, took up the thread in his speech. “There is a new phenomenon we need to talk about—the new kid on the block,” he said, before speaking about the AAP’s anti-corruption stance. At one point, Balaguru turned to the front row to acknowledge Swami Jyotirmayananda, a Miami-based spiritual leader whose patronage extends to an ashram near Delhi that is affiliated with the Rashtriya Sewa Bharati (a social service organisation associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh). Balaguru pointed out that corruption was an important issue for the OFBJP too. “One of the messages I got from Swamiji about four years ago was that BJP needs to clean up its act together in India and the US,” he said. Then he turned to the audience and asked, “Aap log kya chaahte hain BJP se?” (What do you want from the BJP?) People called out: “Unity!”—“No corruption!”—“Respect!”—“Good governance!”

VANYA MEHTA is an independent journalist from Boston, and a graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, USA. She is now based in Delhi, and is on Twitter as @vanyamehta.

Keywords: campaign finance election campaigns Narendra Modi RSS Overseas Friends of BJP Vijay Jolly 2014 Lok Sabha elections NRIs Indian National Overseas Congress Vedanta