The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Gujarat elections is more an affirmation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development policies and leadership, than anything else, according to some Gujarati-Americans, many of whom are not shy of describing themselves as diehard fans of the former Chief Minister of Gujarat. They attribute BJP’s slim 7-seat majority (It requires 92 seats for a majority in the Gujarat state assembly) and are convinced the BJP would have lost to a seemingly resurgent Congress Party under the dynastic leadership of Rahul Gandhi, were it not for the frenetic campaigning by Modi in the state he led for more than a decade.
Gujaratis abroad are also excited by the prospect that Modi may appoint an outsider of the likes of Smriti Irani, the current Minister for Textiles and Information & Broadcasting, as Chief Minister despite state leader Vijay Rupani winning his West Rajkot constituency. That is something akin to what happened in early 2000s when the party decided to send a dynamic pracharak from outside the state to lead Gujarat.
Meanwhile, representatives of the U.S. investment community are encouraged by the victory, according to some who are part of the corporate world interested in India and have worked alongside U.S. business to effect policy changes in that country and their own.
“The Gujarat victory broadcasts to investors that the Modi Agenda is working and that the Prime Minister is headed for re-election in 2019,” contends Ron Somers, former head of the U.S.-India Business Council and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based consultancy group, India First.
The Gujarati-American community was “worried” however, by the polls days before the elections, which showed dwindling support for BJP, says Srujal Parikh, the incoming president of the Federation of Indian Associations of the New York tristate area, one of the largest and oldest organization of Indian-Americans in this country. He frankly admits he is a “diehard fan” of the BJP.
“This election is the biggest lesson they (BJP) have learnt – that they must have a proper leader rather than what they have now,” Parikh said. “This is a stepping stone for the party to learn and do grassroots campaigning for 2019,” he warns. According to him, “Every Gujarati living in the U.S., is happy about the result because they have seen Modi transform the state, and are very proud of his vision and how hard he works,” Parikh said. Yet, he conceded, the common man in Gujarat is feeling some dissatisfaction on a day-to-day basis. “I want to tell them that they have sent the right message of what they want,” he said pointing to the tough race and slim majority of BJP. In addition to that, putting a woman as head of the state, he said, was another visionary step. “That is a very proud day for us,” said Parikh, whose declared objective as president of FIA, is to enable more women to be equal and lead initiatives.
Another staunch BJP supporter Shekhar Tiwari, a businessman from Greater Washington, D.C., sees the future through a more nuanced lens. The win indicates that the opposition is getting consolidated, he says. “So there will be a problem in 2019.” According to Tiwari, “It is worrisome that the opposition are willing to come together without any principles.” India, he contends, needs a stable and powerful leadership for 20 years straight to perform at growth rates of 5 to 7 percent annually, if it is to get anywhere near the Chinese economic phenom.
Padma Shri recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of Desi Talk, (no relation of Srujal Parikh) was unequivocal in giving credit for the Gujarat victory to Modi’s efforts.”The victory shows that Prime Minister Modi is still a tall leader in Indian politics. This win was his. Without his campaigning this would not have happened,” Parikh said. At the end of the day, “People appreciated the development in Gujarat and the negative campaigning did not work,” he added, noting that “Most NRIs from Gujarat are celebrating and excited because 90 percent of them here are BJP supporters. For them, it means the economic development of Gujarat will continue.”
Communications Professor Ramesh Rao of Columbus State University, author of the 2015 book, “The Election that Shaped Gujarat & the Rise of Narendra Modi to National Stardom,” mirrored the views of Parikh. “The Gujarati community (in the U.S.) is by and large happy and celebrating,” Rao said. “And since a majority of Indians here are in technology and business, they will be happy (with the victory in Gujarat).”
As a business insider who has advised those interested in investing in India, Somers sees an optimistic future domestically and in the bilateral relationship with the U.S. “For an investor with a line of sight looking to the future, re-election of Prime Minister Modi provides precisely the kind of predictability that an investor requires to inspire confidence and convince MNC (multinational corporation) Boards of Directors to doubledown on investing in a growing, prospering India,” Somers asserted. Gujarat’s and Himachal Pradesh’s poll victories inspire investor confidence, he says. “That’s good news for India, and great for U.S.-India commercial relations,” he added.
“The reinforcing signal sent by Gujarat voters in the recent State election serves as an endorsement of Prime Minister Modi’s policies and provides investors with confidence and predictability that India’s pro-business reform wave will continue,” Somers said via email.
Rao told Desi Talk the BJP won, “Despite a combined opposition, and manipulation of the electorate on the basis of caste, and despite the Congress Party’s ‘skunk works’, plus add to that, the incumbency factor.” he also accused Western media, particularly in the U.S. and U.K., for a “coordinated campaign”against the BJP, contending “they clearly have a vested interest in bringing back the Congress which they see as a ‘secular, liberal, progressive’ party, as against the BJP which they choose to describe as “Hindu nationalist.”
“The Bharatiya Janata Party, is not Hindu ‘nationalist’,” he countered, emphasizing the words. The gains Congress made will be seen as the work of a “new, exciting leader” in Rahul Gandhi. “They will claim the gains as his (Rahul Gandhi) doing, when obviously, it is the work of Ahmed Patel, the general secretary of the Congress Party,” Rao said.