Skip to main content

Rallies such as Howdy Modi 'designed' to thank past donors, solicit future contributions

By Ian Hall*
With President Donald Trump as his “warm up act”, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally of 50,000 members of the Indian diaspora at Houston’s NRG Stadium on September 22. Dubbed Howdy Modi!, the event kicks off a busy week in the US for Modi, with no fewer than 40 meetings to attend.
Apart from bilateral talks with Trump, he is due to speak at the UN General Assembly, attend a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, and appear at the UN’s Climate Action Summit. Modi will also collect a “global goalkeeper” award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his government’s Swachch Bharat or “Clean India” initiative.
It is the Howdy Modi event that will attract attention, however, and not just because of the praise Modi and Trump heaped upon each other. Few leaders hold these kinds of events when they travel. But Modi has a long history of speaking to gatherings of the Indian diaspora when travelling overseas.
In 2014, after the landslide election win that first brought his government to power, he appeared before a crowd of 18,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York, and then at another gathering, attended by a similar number, at the AllPhones Arena in the Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. A year later, Modi was joined by his British counterpart David Cameron in front of an estimated 60,000 members of the Indian diaspora at Wembley Stadium in London.

Campaign Modi

Gatherings like Howdy Modi are effectively campaign rallies, albeit organised abroad and involving people who, for the most part, cannot vote in India’s elections. They are organised by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), working with diaspora civil society groups, and not primarily by officials from the local embassies or consulates. 
They allow Modi to be seen by viewers back home in as positive a light as possible, fêted by an overwhelmingly supportive crowd made up of people whom ordinary Indians would consider savvy and successful. In this way, such events are part of Modi’s broader, ongoing effort to consolidate his position as the most dominant Indian politician of his era.
There is, however, more to these events than just public relations. In recent years, India’s elections have become colossally expensive. In 2014, an estimated US$5 billion was spent by the candidates. In 2019, some estimate that figure grew to at least US$7 billion. Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP almost certainly accounted for the majority of the spending. Prior to the poll, it had reportedly amassed a considerable war chest.
A sizeable proportion of this money came from big corporations and some from ordinary BJP members and supporters in India. But it’s likely that a significant amount came from the Indian diaspora, despite the fact that many cannot vote in India, either because they are no longer citizens or, if they are, because they were unable to travel back home to cast their ballot, as they must do under current electoral law.
The Delhi High Court found that both the BJP and the opposition Congress Party accepted foreign donations, including from foreign-based companies, prior to the 2014 elections. Since then, the Modi government legislated both to make it harder to trace the sources of campaign financing and to make it easier for foreign individuals and entities to donate money. Rallies such as Howdy Modi are designed to thank past donors and to solicit future contributions, rather than to appeal for diaspora votes.

Uniting the diaspora

These events also serve as instruments of political consolidation. India’s diaspora is as heterogeneous as India. And abroad, people of Indian origin and Indian citizens often coalesce into groups that reflect regional, linguistic, caste and religious identities, as well as national, “Indian” organisations. These sub-national groups help preserve those identities, but arguably also weaken the diaspora as a political force. Forging India lobbies in places such as the US that might influence governments on New Delhi’s behalf is hard under such circumstances.
The BJP uses events like Howdy Modi to try to address that problem, as a focal point around which various smaller groups can gather. The prime minister’s Twitter feed made that clear, posting video of Modi meeting the representatives of particular communities, such as the Shia Muslim Dawoodi Bohras, the Kashmiri Pandits, and local Sikhs. It is telling too that the organisers managed to attract sponsorship for Howdy Modi from more than six hundred diaspora groups from across the US.
Since 2014, the Indian diaspora has been one of Modi’s biggest supporters, politically and financially. Whether this backing will persist through his second term will be a key test. As India’s economy began to falter in 2017, some thought that the diaspora would grow disillusioned, and withdraw their backing. During the recent election campaign, however, there were no signs of a mass defection from the cause, with diaspora Indians continuing to contribute time as well as money to ensure Modi’s BJP were returned to office.
---
*Deputy Director (Research), Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University. This article was first published in The Conversation 

Comments

TRENDING

NYT seeks UN intervention, says: Modi turning autocratic, talks absurd on Kashmir

By Our Representative
In what appears to be a scathing reply to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-publicized “New York Times” (NYT) article on Mahatma Gandhi titled “Why India and the World need Gandhi”, NYT’s powerful editorial board has said, Modi “didn’t address” the Kashmir issue in his United Nations (UN) speech, calling his assertion at the Houston rally a few days – that revoking the constitutional clause on Kashmiri autonomy meant “people there have got equal rights” with other Indians – “absurd”.

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…

Why nobody objected to Gautam Gambhir, Sunny Deol in t-shirt, jean?: Activists

By Our Representative
Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan’s excitement on their first day as MPs was overshadowed by a barrage of sexism over their ‘non- sanskari’ outfits, a group of civil society activists have said in a statement. According to Aarushi Nigam, Divya Kaushik, Riya Sharma, Ruman Ganguly, and Anulekha Agarwal, both Bengali actors and first-time MPs "were certainly excited to take them on when they posted pictures from their new workplace on social media."
Hit by misogynistic comments, the activists say, "Their choice of workwear – jeans and a white button-down shirt for Mimi, a wine-coloured peplum suit for Nusrat – was the first and last word on their political competence for many."
“You’re not on vacation”, “they have mistaken Parliament for Kolkata’s Nicco Park or City Centre”, “this is not a photo studio, this is a place where you should fight for people’s rights and legislate”, “keep some respect towards your Bengali society” were some of the &quo…

132 Gujarat citizens, including IIM-A faculty, others declare solidarity with Kashmiris

Counterview Desk
A week after it was floated, 132 activists, academics, students, artists and other concerned citizens of Gujarat, backed by 118 living in different parts of India and the world, have signed a "solidarity letter" supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), who, it claims, have been silenced and held captive in their own land. The signatories include faculty members and scholars of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Amit Shah 'wrong': Lack of transparency characterized bank frauds, NPAs, jobs data

Counterview Desk
India's senior RTI activists Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venktesh Nayak, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan, who are attached with the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), have said that Union home minister Amit Shah's claim that the Government of India is committed to transparency stands in sharp contrast to its actual actions.