AAP seems to have struck gold by simply allowing the NRIs to be a part of the process.

Voices Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 05:30
By Anshul Rana If you have been following the news cycle for the last few months, you couldn’t have helped but notice that Non Resident Indians (NRIs) play an integral role in Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party setup. From Chicago based Shalini Gupta who manages the party’s global support group to the nondescript ‘aam aadmi’ NRIs responsible for over 7000 phone calls to Delhi voters during the state assembly elections last November, the NRI is indispensible to the AAP. While this may not be the first time that NRIs have been involved in Indian politics, we have never seen them share the front row as with the AAP. The question that one might ask is why have the NRIs – a relatively dormant political entity taken a fancy to AAP? Conspiracy theorists may call it the ‘foreign hand’, while romantics will say its the ‘awakened conscience’. In truth, the AAP seems to have struck gold by simply allowing the NRIs to be a part of the process just like the - pardon the cheesiness - ‘aam aadmi’, instead of treating them like outliers. For both the Congress and the BJP, NRIs are nothing more than cash cows, which they can try and milk from time to time. Not surprising, since both parties don’t see the 20 million or so NRIs as a vote bank. (NRIs got the right to vote in 2010 but have to be physically present in India to vote).The Congress, engendered with the politics of a ‘foreign hand’ and the belief that its voter is the poor and the downtrodden has never really showed any interest in the ‘privileged’ and its leaders have virtually made no attempts to woo those living outside India. Moreover with the party’s decision to call NRI donations to AAP ‘foreign funding’ and demands for an investigation into the same, it seems that the grand old party has no intention to change. On the other hand the media and technology savvy Modi has at least tried to connect with the NRIs, especially the very well connected and rich Gujarati diaspora in the US through frequent video conferences. But the BJP, apart from making some token moves has remained largely indifferent to a majority of those living outside India. The party has tried to woo only the upwardly mobile ‘pravasis’, making no effort to link up with the ‘aam aadmi’ of the non-resident kind. For proof, just look at the statements made by some BJP leaders. Party President Rajnath Singh told a recent gathering of ‘Overseas Friends of BJP’ that they would improve investment conditions for the NRIs and float special bonds for them to invest in, if voted to power. Not that it is a bad thing but it is safe to assume that a majority of the 20 million or so NRIs are not exactly planning to invest in the bond market in India. This kind of indifference of the two main political parties created a vacuum for the ‘aam aadmi’ NRI- the IT worker, the MBA consultant, the taxi driver, the housewife and the student. They wanted to feel involved and AAP has attempted to fill that vaccum.Given the absence of a well established party organization, the AAP welcomed any help. So when NRIs like Ms. Gupta offered to volunteer, they were quickly put to work, in helping organize and run the campaign, to whatever extent they could. For those who could not travel to India, technology came to the rescue. AAP came up with an innovative idea called ‘adopt a constituency’ through which NRIs in far off locations like Seattle, California, Dallas, Germany, Singapore among others, were encouraged to adopt a constituency and help the campaign by completing tasks that did not require physical presence. This included things like digitizing and analyzing voter lists and managing social media outreach. But the masterstroke was born out of a necessity for AAP- raising funds to fight elections. A transparent system of collecting donations linked to the message of changing the political system proved to be a massive success. It allowed even those who wanted to be part of the change somehow but not really work for it, to ‘feel’ involved. As of Jan 27, 18% of AAP funds for the 2014 elections consisted of donations from NRIs in the US, UAE, Singapore, UK and Canada. There is no denying the fact that with the involvement of NRIs, AAP gets expertise and publicity that it can’t otherwise afford. How long this support lasts is anyone’s guess, but it will depend on how well a largely anti establishment movement can transform itself to be a part of the political system and yet hold onto to its activist/ reformist character. Meanwhile the ‘NRI effect’ has not gone unnoticed in the BJP, which is trying to ramp up its ‘foreign’ support with leaders claiming that ‘thousands of NRIs are expected’ to join the party’s Lok Sabha campaign. The Congress of course doesn’t need the NRIs. Yet. (Anshul Rana is a consultant at the World Bank and a research associate at John Hopkins university. He is obsessed by all things politics). The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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