Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Saffron across the seven seas

Saffron across the seven seas - Outlook

Sanjay Suri (London) and Narayan D. Keshavan (New York) ()
March 16, 1998

Title: Saffron across the seven seas
Author: Sanjay Suri (London) and Narayan D. Keshavan (New York)
Publication: Outlook
Date: March 16, 1998

As the BJP made an all-out bid for power this year, it was not
just the Sangh parivar in India that did the ground work. Its
international family came to the aid of the party too. In a well-
orchestrated campaign, many in India received messages from
friends and relatives abroad to exercise their franchise to
instal Atal Behari Vajpayee as prime minister. Indeed, an
organisation called the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), with
its vast network of branches in most countries with a sizeable
NRI population, ensured that the BJP emerged as the most well-
represented Indian political party abroad.

So much so that on occasions BJP leaders managed to draw larger
crowds than British politicians in England. As Keith Vaz, a
member of the House of Commons, found to his surprise in 1995 at
the thumping welcome L.K. Advani received in his constituency
Leicester. Indeed, in all his years as MP, he had never managed
to collect such a large crowd. In fact, the OFBJP was largely
responsible for Advani being accorded the BBC, Man of the Year
title some years ago.

Support for the BJP is an outcome of the crystallisation of a
Hindu identity in Britain and the US and the BJP nurses its non-
voting constituency in these countries with some care. M.M. Joshi
was a guest at a meeting on Kashmir organised by the National
Hindu Students Forum in Britain, which has a 2,000-plus
membership. Kedar Nath Sahni and Sikander Bakht later visited
Britain to address meetings on Kashmir organised by BJP
supporters, who work closely with the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh
(HSS), the RSS' overseas branch. And the crowning glory was a
series of meetings addressed by RSS chief Rajinder Singh.
Interestingly, Advani is a bigger crowd-puller than Vajpayee.

The OFBJP has an extensive network in Britain, with eight
branches and a 17-member central committee. Dr Gautam Sen,
lecturer in international relations at the London School of
Economics and the new spokesman for the BJP there, says their
objective is primarily "to remove misconceptions about the BJP,
that it is a communal or fascist party".

The BJP members in Britain have launched a programme of writing
to councillors and MPs and holding meetings to defend and explain
the BJP in India. Sen has spoken actively for the BJP in several
discussions on radio and TV and says: "We want our views here to
get across so chat reports on the BJP are not instantly hostile."
A current campaign is on to collect "tens of thousands of
signatures" to back Indian membership in the UN Security Council,
for which Margaret Thatcher's backing is being sought.

While Sen is the formal and public face of the BJP in Britain,
its real strength lies in the temples and HSS shakhas. About 60
shakhas are held regularly across Britain every week, the natural
fallout of which is support for the BJP. When Kalyan Singh was
dismissed recently, prayers were held for him at the shakhas and
in scores of temples across Britain. And after the Coimbatore
blasts, thanksgiving prayers were held in temples up and down
Britain and also at two gurdwaras in Southall for the safety of
Advani and to pray for those who died.

The OFBJP American branch is equally active in lobbying for
support for the Sangh parivar. Says vice-president of the
American OFBJP Shekhar Tiwari: "We began the organisation in 1991
to give the BJP an international reach. We work to build direct
contact with policy-makers, administration officials, members of
various think-tanks and the media. Among our jobs is to fight the
leftist and liberal propaganda against the BJP. And this includes
the anti-BJP propaganda that the Congress party carries on
against us." Incidentally, Tiwari is also a member of the RSS.

In a PR stunt, the OFBJP staged a media event here to announce a
'vote for the BJP' campaign. Jagdish Sewhani, treasurer, said:
"We have urged all NRIS to call, write, send e-mail or faxes to
their friends and relatives to vote BJP. But Tiwari and Sewhani
acknowledged that such moves wouldn't affect the outcome of votes
in a large democracy such as India. "It's more for emotional
satisfaction by demonstrating our commitment to the Indian
democracy and BJP," says Tiwari. "We overseas Indians can't vote;
so asking relatives and friends to vote is the next best thing we
could think of."

Significantly, interviews with members of the American parivar,
academics, US Administration officials, Congressional sources and
diplomats clearly point to the growth of the Hindu lobby since
the early nineties-that is, soon after the Ayodhya demolition.
The BJP had then come under attack by the US media as well as the
Indian officialdom in Washington, then led by Ambassador
Sidhartha Shankar Ray. As Tiwari notes: t was Ray who, in a
way, fired up our juices. We had to do something to counter the
insulting propaganda he was dishing out against the BJP. We have
never looked back since then."

When general elections in India were announced recently, the
OFBJP, which has chapters in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas,
California and Washington DC, tried to crank up its efforts to
shore up the BJP's image in the US. They have two audiences to
deal with: the Indian American community, which has
overwhelmingly supported the BJP in the just concluded elections,
and mainstream America, which doesn't know too much about the

As for lobbying on Capitol Hill, even Indian diplomats admit to
the organisational abilities of the so-called parivar in the US.
"I can count only on the BJP and RSS types to deliver on the Hill
when we need support concerning some of our issues; you know,
issues like the (anti-India) Burton amendment or the Brown
amendment. They back India's cause with no questions or favours
asked," says a senior Indian official. Indeed even the US
establishment has been penetrated. Recently, an Indian official
visiting an American lawmaker, who enjoys much support among the
country's Indian community, presented a grim analysis of the BJP.
Only to be interrupted by the lawmaker's assistant, whose very
different view on the BJP then prevailed. The assistant, it
turned out, was a former member of the Hindu Students Council, a
part of the American parivar.

The OFBJP has partially succeeded in its mission to present a
positive image in the American mainstream. As an administration
official says privately: "These guys are not too sophisticated or
suave. But they are persistent and don't give up easily. So, they
won over important allies on the Hill, in the administration and
in a few think-tanks. They have even networked with other
lobbying organisations to penetrate the higher echelons of power
in Washington. We have to listen to them." And that's no mean

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements