By Kalyani Shankar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to woo the Indian Diaspora once again when he visits the US later this month to participate in the UNGA conference. A mega community event called “Howdy Modi” (an official Texas greeting) is being planned in Houston on September 22 where he proposes to address about 70,000 Indian-Americans to wow the Americans for the third time.
The first was when he sizzled New York in 2014 in his Madison Square Garden rally event with more than 40 American lawmakers by his side. “You play a key role in shaping a positive image of India not just in America but also around the world,” Modi told a rapturous crowd cheering and chanting “Modi, Modi” at the venue. The second was in Silicon Valley in 2016, which was equally a big show. Both events were huge hits.
The Houston show is significant as this will be the first in the US, after his huge mandate in the 2019 polls. Modi, known as a showman, will utilize this opportunity to connect directly with the Indian-Americans and Non Resident Indians. Texas has more than 300,000 Indians in the state. Known as the energy capital of the world, Texas has a special relationship with India.
Why is Modi investing so much into the Diaspora? For Modi, the Diaspora plays an important role in his politics and economics. The first is that he wants to mobilise the Diaspora. The second is that he wants to use them to project his image in the US. The third is that he wants to make use of this opportunity to further India’s business interests. As the Diaspora has grown in influence, it is only natural for Modi to utilize it further. Even as chief minister of Gujarat, he knew its importance. The fourth is that while addressing the Diaspora, he also targets his domestic constituency. Indian Diaspora is the second biggest after China. 30 million Indians are living in 205 countries around the world.
Modi has made his interaction with the Diaspora a fundamental part of his foreign visits. In contrast, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, pursued a policy of “active dissociation” from them. This continued until Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao realized the need for the Diaspora mobilisation after the liberalisation. Modi is not the first to woo the Indian Americans, as it was during the Vajpayee regime (1998-2004) the lobby became quite influential and got the American sanctions lifted after the Pokhran nuclear blasts and persuaded the US President Bill Clinton to visit India in 2000. Vajpayee, in his enthusiasm appointed Agnihotri, an NRI as ‘ambassador at large’, but Washington refused to recognize two ambassadors. Vajpayee was the first to organize Pravasi Diwas to honour them for their contribution. Later, it was the Diaspora influence, which helped Manmohan Singh to clinch the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008.
The glitz and glamour surrounding Modi’s visit this month are part of a diplomacy drive, which is getting more and more refined. One of the main deviations from India’s traditional foreign policy was that he has instructed all Indian embassies abroad to be receptive to the Diaspora concerns.
Secondly, he has turned the Diaspora into an effective tool of his foreign policy, which is a key achievement. Modi has praised them and called them Ambassadors of India and treats them as part of India’s soft power standing. He believes that Indian Americans are one of the wealthiest and most educated diaspora in the United States.
Thirdly, even electorally, the Indian Americans have been useful for his election campaign. They raised money, provided technical services for campaign and they also volunteered for mobilization campaigns and lobbying. Moreover, by showing off his clout with the Indian Diaspora, Modi also sends a signal to the US political parties about his Diaspora vote bank.
Fourthly, with his proposed meeting with the CEOs in Houston, he could also promote Indian business interests by seeking investment from the American multinationals. Modi has never lost a chance to promote Indian interests.
Moreover, the BJP has always been more active with the Diaspora than the Congress. For decades now the RSS and its constituents have been working in the US and elsewhere propagating Hindu culture and building temples. By contrast, the Congress has been slow in getting connected with the American Indians.
Why do the NRIs look to Modi? It is because they trust him and hope he will turn India into a land of opportunities. They appreciate that Modi has given them many facilities like the OCI card, making visas easier, voting by proxy and admission in schools etc. They are now demanding dual citizenship.
For Modi the Diaspora is not a liability but an asset. While Modi’s critics allege that he is building brand Modi abroad, he feels that their power should be harnessed for the growth of India as well as his own image and he has succeed in both so far. (IPA Service)