News Update


Why Indian politicians court the diaspora, according to Rahul Gandhi in the US

There may not have been as many Indians in attendance as there are for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But despite the fact that Mr. Gandhi is no longer a member of Congress or the leader of the opposition, volunteers from the Indian Overseas Congress, the party’s overseas branch, were able to draw enough attendees to Mr. Gandhi’s events.

This week, Mr. Gandhi will be visiting three US cities, including Stanford University in California and the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

After defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, he makes his visit.


The Bharat Jodo Yatra, a 4,000 km (2,485 mi) long “unity march” he led across India over the course of five months, is another accomplishment the Congress leader is riding the momentum of. He has mentioned it at every meeting.

Mr. Gandhi has attacked the Indian administration and lambasted PM Modi during his tour. He has courted the Indian-American community, praising them for their success in Silicon Valley and strong work ethic.

Students at Stanford waited in line to hear Mr. Gandhi speak and take pictures with him. People referred to his Bharat Jodo march while making calls for the unification of India at another diaspora event.

The Indian Overseas Congress’ Sam Pitroda described the march as “a turning point” for Mr. Gandhi. He remarks, “His yatra has brought vitality here.

But why would a politician from India who doesn’t have a sizable foreign fan base attempt to court the diaspora?

Indian-Americans are among the immigrant groups in the US with the highest median income, and they give a lot of money to both Indian and American political parties. Indian-Americans are seen as more than “soft power” due to their active participation in US politics as voters and candidates.

According to a 2019 survey, community members contributed more money to Democratic candidates individually than other Asian Americans.

Rahul Gandhi and people from other countries IMAGE SOURCE, CONGRESS
Mr. Gandhi interacting with Indian-Americans in the US during his current visit
According to Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank, any favorable news coverage relayed back home has the potential to “boost electoral prospects” in India.

But according to Temple University professor and co-author of The Other One Percent: Indians in America Sanjoy Chakravorty, projecting a reputation that is on the rise will be “a tall task” for Mr. Gandhi. Despite Mr. Gandhi’s intentions to establish global importance, “he’s been turned into a bit of a joke in many circles,” according to Mr. Chakravorty. As a result, there is constantly an effort to appear serious.

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Mr. Gandhi’s visit is deemed “ill-timed” by Mr. Vaishnav. On June 22, PM Modi will travel to the US and attend a state banquet hosted by the White House in his honor.

Mr. Vaishnav says that it is difficult to compete with those optics. The highest honor we have is given to foreign politicians, and comparisons will be drawn.

In the eyes of the Indian diaspora, Mr. Modi has a “unique” appeal akin to a rock star.

The political influence of Indian-Americans in the US and their involvement in influencing India’s foreign policy have increased as India’s economic might rises and its partnership with the US becomes stronger.

One of the first people in the 2000s to begin communicating with the diaspora was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Nearly 20,000 Indian-Americans supported PM Modi in 2014, and they applauded at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Is there any leader in the world who could or would have the guts to sell Madison Square Garden? Asks Mr. Vaishanv. I have no one in mind.

At a Houston event in 2019, 50,000 Indian-Americans showed up to witness PM Modi and then-US President Donald Trump. Aside from the Pope, it was the largest welcome a foreign leader has ever gotten in the US. Mr. Trump described it as “exceptional”.

On September 22, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump attended “Howdy, Modi!” at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
picture caption
At an event in Houston in 2019, 50,000 Indian Americans came to witness PM Modi and then-US President Donald Trump.
According to Mr. Chakravorty, there is no precedent for Indian leaders holding such sizable public demonstrations abroad. “Indian prime leaders have visited numerous times, met with senior officials, and conducted talks and trade negotiations. They haven’t held any significant public events, he claims. “Going big and being noticeable is Modi’s style.”

Why are Indian politicians important to Indian-Americans who cannot vote in India?

The community is noted for maintaining strong ties with their native country on a family, cultural, and economic level. Many people’s private investments are at risk.

Pooja Lakhia, a Californian, claims that many in the community have excellent careers in the US. Many of us have investments in India, including property, houses, and stocks, she adds, “many might go back or stay here.”

Ms. Lakhia, a self-described “Modi fan,” believes it’s crucial for Indian politicians to interact with the diaspora, but she turned down an invitation to Mr. Gandhi’s community event.

Indian-Americans acknowledge they are beneficiaries of public higher education institutions in India due to the high rates of college education. An official from the central bank reported that the country received $108 billion (£86 billion) in remittances from Indians living abroad last year, which boosts the Indian economy.

Anu Maitra, a trustee at the University of California, which hosted Mr. Gandhi, says that although the community is frequently criticized for its involvement in domestic politics while living comfortably in the US, the diaspora finds that events with Indian politicians send a very important message to Indians back home that “our hearts are there with them.”

It’s not like moving abroad automatically excludes you, she claims. “You don’t want to speak up but expect us to bail you out of balance of payments issues?”

Many first-generation Indian-Americans, according to Silicon Valley entrepreneur Talat Hasan, feel a strong connection to their homeland. “We were raised in the post-independent India with a strong sense of patriotism,” she claims.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is applauded by spectators during the Community Summit on September 22, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
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It is well known that the diaspora in the US maintains strong familial, cultural, and economic ties with India.
As seen in the Bollywood movie Swades, many people have aspirations of going back to their native countries to give back what they have got. In the Shah Rukh Khan-starring movie, an Indian-American NASA scientist returns to his Indian town to improve it.

This week, Indian-American engineer Ravi Kuchimanchi, whose biography served as the basis for the movie, flew to California to attend a speech by Mr. Gandhi.

“He came across as an honest person, and he needs to tell non-resident Indians how to help him,” said Mr. Kuchimanchi.

The inclination of the diaspora to assist India extends “beyond sentimentality,” according to Anjali Arondekar of the University of California. “The main factor isn’t that we are sending significant amounts of remittances. Indian kids in the US are seeking a link to India, that much is true.

Opportunities for Indian politicians to engage with the diaspora are expanding as well.

The “non-partisan” campus has developed into a stop for major Indian leaders when they travel to California, according to Dinsha Mistree of Stanford University, who sponsored an event for Me Gandhi. Next, he extended an open invitation to PM Modi while seated next to Mr. Gandhi.


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