The NR Eye: Ordinary NRIs to find hope in Aaam Aadmi Party

December 09, 2013 - 11:30:17 am
by Moiz Mannan

Regardless of the number of seats won by the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly elections, the debutant unit seems to have emerged as the hope against corruption for those overseas Indians who are politically un-indoctrinated.

Over the years, the direct participation of non-resident Indians (NRIs) in Indian politics has been minimal. Indeed, as all those millions of resident Indians who’re not on any party’s rolls, the NRIs too have been a disillusioned lot. They have seen parties come and go at the centre and in their home states without much change.

So far, the participation of NRIs has been restricted to hardcore supporters wedded to a certain party’s ideology or expat businessmen whose interests back home are affected by who comes to power. Even their involvement was limited to sending election funds to favoured parties or candidates. By all known accounts, among Indian political parties it is the BJP which has the largest NRI support base.

This is probably for the first time in India’s election history that so many ‘aam’ (commoner) NRIs have pitched into the effort of getting a party elected. These are people, mostly young professionals, for whom India comes first and political affiliation later. For some of them, AAP holds the promise of a truly secular political unit that is neither divisive nor opportunistic in matters of caste and religion. Rather, it is a grouping that means business. For a majority, though, it is the ‘clean’ credentials of AAP that hold the appeal.

Living and working in nations where corruption and bureaucracy are not to be contended with by the common citizen, it is the overwhelming presence of these two factors in India that irks them the most.

The NRIs had seen a new ray of hope when Anna Hazare launched his fresh anti-corruption initiative in 2011. While the septuagenarian crusader stopped the Indian Against Corruption campaign short of contesting elections, a large section of NRI sympathisers believe the only way to bring about change is through the ballot. They have boarded the Aam Admi Party bandwagon.

What appeals to NRIs most is that Kejriwal not just raises issues, but offers practical solutions to them as well. There are reports of many of them having taken special leave or even given up their jobs abroad to work for AAP’s Delhi campaign. Over the past couple of months, AAP chapters and wings have appeared on all continents.

NRIs have spearheaded the party’s IT management of the campaign. It availed the application of software developed by a US-based NRI to implement its ‘volunteer engagement programme’ (VEP). Kejriwal has had video conferencing sessions with NRI groups in USA, Britain, Australia, Belgium, Germany and Singapore. 

Twitter and Google Hangout were used for fund-raising and get-out-the-vote efforts, but Facebook was the party’s primary organizational tool. NRI volunteers across the globe sat for hours compiling and storing phone numbers of potential Delhi voters into a large electronic database. This was then distributed through the party’s website, giving each overseas caller a list of names and phone numbers of people in Delhi.

An AAP USA Facebook post read “A staggering 4 lakh 80 thousand (480,000) calls were made to Delhi Citizens urging them to ‘Vote for Change – AAP’. Close to 35,000 patriotic volunteers around the world participated in a historic ‘Citizen Call Campaign’. 20,000 more calls were made by ‘Adopt a Constituency’ teams. Call it a Massive Volunteer movement or a War against Bad Traditional Politics, AAP movement is no less than a Freedom Struggle. This political movement revolutionized Indian politics.”

AAP seriously started expanding its support base among NRIs with a convention in Chicago in May this year. A group of Indian-Americans from as many as 20 cities held a meeting in Chicago over the weekend and extended full support to the political movement.

“We NRIs (Non-resident Indians) and PIOs (People of Indian origin) look with great interest at this political experiment and extend full support to Aam Aadmi Party that wants to change the culture of politics in India,” said the resolution which was passed at the convention. “As a community, we have our own expectations from the government. Thus, it is crucial that political class do justice to our country keeping in mind that India has a long history of glory, richness and civilization and all that needs to reclaimed,” the resolution added.

Support to his cause grew as Kejriwal, through video conferencing, talked about AAP’s role in India’s growth and outlined what NRIs could do to push this agenda. Many Indian expats felt inspired by his clear thinking and vision. Kejriwal went on to address NRIs in other countries in a similar manner. Soon, the newly formed chapters were given responsibilities. The chapters in Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea and Germany adopted the constituencies of New Delhi, Trilokpuri, Seelampur, Shalimar Bagh and Burari, respectively. There are about 18 AAP chapters across the world - comprising of hundreds of techies, housewives, senior citizens, doctors, writers etc as members - which have adopted different constituencies in Delhi.

From digitizing and analyzing voter details, preparing a manifesto and planning and making short films and other interesting campaign-related material to connecting with people, managing Twitter and Facebook accounts, e-mailing and fund-raising, these groups did all they could to help AAP candidates. In fact, some 400 volunteers were reported to have flown in to Delhi to be a part of the process.

The party also seemed to have overcome the issue of its foreign funding raised through a public interest litigation followed by a government investigation. AAP has maintained that its fund collection is completely transparent, with details posted on its website. The website gives country-wise as well as donor-wise lists of the election kitty which has got more than Rs. 200 m so far. The party has received funds from NRIs based in the US, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kumwait, Qatar, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and New Zealand.

The party claims that it has accepted donations only from Indians and turned down offers by foreigners. Each donor is expected to register his complete details including passport number. Donations above Rs one million by individuals have to approved by AAP’s public accounts committee. One optimistic supporter has blogged, “If Aam Admi Party come to power in India there will be millions of NRIs returning home with skills and investment. AAP will cause waves of reverse brain drain.”the Peninsula
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