Rahul needs to do more than Modi bashing abroad

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Rahul needs to do more than Modi bashing abroad

Tuesday, 06 June 2023 | Kalyani Shankar

Rahul Gandhi would do well to convince Indians back home that he is the right man to take on Modi. It is here the 2024 election would be fought

Why do Indian politicians woo the Diaspora in the United States and elsewhere? Why does the Diaspora, who can't vote in India, take an interest in their homeland? It is perhaps because, as India's G.D.P. grows, the Diaspora's role in India's foreign policy also rises.

The 32 million-strong global Indian Diaspora has emerged as one of the wealthiest minorities in many developed countries. Every year 2.5 million Indians ( the highest annual number) migrate to other countries. Cumulative N.R.I. deposits are at $136 billion as of February 2023.

Indian Americans like U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Presidential hopefuls Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy play an increasingly important political role. Indian Origin Rishi Sunak is now the Prime Minister of the U.K. In the Corporate world,  Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Google), and Shantanu Narayen (Adobe) now head giant American multinational corporations. Ajay Banga just became the President of the World Bank.  The B.J.P. realised the importance of the Diaspora long ago. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also aggressively wooed them. Late Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee appointed an Indian American as an 'ambassador at large' in addition to the regular U.S. envoy. However, he was withdrawn as the American government did not recognise him. Interestingly Congress Party did not take the Diaspora seriously. That could be because the Grand Old Party ruled the country for 59 years since independence. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi did not need this exercise for their international image.

Unsurprisingly, Rahul Gandhi has been reaching out since his successful U.S. tour in 2017. His visit to the United Kingdom in March and the U.S. this week is part of that image-building exercise. The dormant Overseas Congress, now headed by Sam Pitroda, has been activated. Rahul has acquired a raised profile after his successful 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' early this year. Added to that was the recent massive win in Karnataka. Congress Party felt it must seriously engage the Diaspora before the 2024 polls.

Curiously, Gandhi visited the U.S. three weeks before Modi's official visit. President Joe Biden will host the Prime Minister at the White House. Being the showman, Modi would hog the limelight in his last visit before the end of his second term.   Modi vowed the U.S. in the past nine years with his Madison Square Garden meeting in New York in 2014 and his 'Howdy Modi rally" in Houston in 2019. He developed a first-name basis with the three American Presidents- Obama, Trump and Biden.

Rahul tried to begin a new conversation with students, academicians, Congressmen and intellectuals in various meetings. Confident and cheerful, he poked fun at Modi and his government. Gandhi lavished praise on the Diaspora, "So thank you very much for holding up the Indian flag in America. The thrust of his meetings in California, New York and Washington- the three cities he visited, was that there was a hidden undercurrent. "For one minute, I don't believe the B.J.P. cannot be defeated," he said.

At the National press club meeting in Washington, Gandhi expressed hope for a strong comeback of his party in the coming elections. Gandhi talked about India's relations with China and Russia. The only endorsement of the Modi government was its stand on Russia and Ukraine.

"To be nasty to people, to be arrogant, to be violent, these are not Indian values," Gandhi said at an event at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. He called for Indians in the U.S. and back home to stand up for democracy and the Indian constitution. Scenes of his Bharat Jodo trip were displayed on the famous Times Square billboard, one of the world's busiest and most famous intersections in New York. For a politician who is no longer a parliament member, the Indian Overseas Congress mobilised enough crowds for his events. The B.J.P. is upset at Gandhi's criticism of Mod abroad. The External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar  was critical of his remarks on foreign soil. Even earlier, during his March trip to the United Kingdom, several B.J.P. ministers demanded an apology from Gandhi for slinging mud on India.

Rahul told the Diaspora, "I need institutional structures to fight elections. I need a judicial system that protects me. I need a medium that is reasonably free. I need financial parity. I need a set of institutional structures that allow me to operate as a political party ." And  Gandhi noted, "I do not have them." Congress is happy about Rahul's U.S. visit. But he needs to do more than Modi- Bashing. Also, he must improve his delivery. ONE PART OF THE STORY IS about visiting the U.S. and the U.K., and the other speaking his mind with the Diaspora. But Gandhi must clearly spell out his vision for India and address bread and butter issues for the Indian electorate.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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