Indian diaspora makes mark in foreign policy

September 29, 2014 01:05 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:28 pm IST - NEW YORK:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reception at Madison Square Garden is a way of thanking the Indian-American community members who played a big part in his electronic campaign and election funding. It is a powerful message to U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. administration ahead of his meetings in Washington.

“Mr. Obama is a democratic man. When he sees the response of the crowds here, how can he not understand the popularity of a man, who like him, has come up the hard way?” explains BJP leader Ram Madhav, who has been a key organiser of Mr. Modi’s events in the U.S.

The other message is that the political clout of the Indian-American community that has rallied around Mr. Modi in large numbers can no longer be ignored. At 2.8 million, they may number just 1% of the U.S. population, but they are the most educated and richest minority, according to a Pew survey in 2013.

They are now significant part of Republicans and Democrats, as well as government, and Mr. Modi is spending a considerable amount of time engaging with the community as well as governors like Nikki Haley and Congressmen Tulsi Gabbard and Ami Bera. It cannot go unnoticed that the three officials who will serve as Mr. Obama’s interface with Mr. Modi — Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, her deputy Atul Keshap, and the newly- nominated U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Rahul Varma — are all Americans of Indian descent.

An anecdote says the most about the community’s clout and how Mr. Modi is enlisting them to leverage that clout. In April this year, as general elections in India were underway, Mr. Obama attended a fund-raiser by Democrat supporters in Chicago. It was at that lunch, say those were present, that Mr. Obama was told that India’s next Prime Minister would probably be the man whose visa the U.S. had once revoked.

According to one of the donors, “Obama said it was the first time he had been explained the case, and just how badly it would reflect on Indo-US ties in the future, if he didn’t do more to reach out to the new PM.” One of those present at the lunch, Dr. Bharat Barai, is also the chief organiser of the Madison Square Garden event.

He told TheHindu : “Mr. Obama said I value our relations with India more than anyone realises. I will be the first to call Mr. Modi when he wins and invite him to the White House.”

As a result, the Indian diaspora has also become an important input in Mr. Modi’s foreign policy initiatives in several countries. For his visit to Japan, and his meetings with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping too, NRIs and members of the BJP-affiliated “overseas friends of India” in those countries have been a constant source of information and access. An early mover in political fundraising is hotelier Sant Chatwal, known to be a donor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and who often worked a backchannel with her for the UPA government. Mr. Chatwal, a VIP guest at the Madison Square Garden event, summed things up for TheHindu : “We are sending a powerful message to Mr. Obama from here that the Indian-American community is no longer looking for photo-ops with American leaders. We want, and can ensure, a change in policy that will be more favourable to India.”

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