Indian-Americans around the U.S. celebrated the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh state assembly elections last week, organizing “vijay diwas” or victory parties, but the enthusiasm did not seem as intense as in the past when Narendra Modi himself contested the elections from Gujarat, or when he became India’s prime minister.
Despite general jubilation in New York, New Jersey, few firecrackers burst in India Square in Jersey City, home to many Gujarati-owned businesses. Nor were there victory-to-Modi slogans raised during similar such occasions in the past.
It’s not that the community was unhappy over BJP’s victory in Gujarat, but celebrations were somewhat muted in comparison to the party’s earlier victories.
“First of all, in this Gujarat election Modi, who is a charismatic figure, himself did not contest but it was his party. That made a difference in terms of jubilation. Secondly, for a lot of people victory in Gujarat was a foregone conclusion — people expected it thanks to Modi’s continued leadership,” said Anand Patel, a community elder from New Jersey.
In Edison, New Jersey, more than 100 people attended a celebration organized by the Overseas Friends of BJP at TV Asia Studio Dec. 19. Those who addressed the gathering included Suresh Jani, one of the founders of OFBJP and its past president, as well as OFBJP USA’s current president Krishna Reddy Anugula.
Similar celebrations took place in New York, Washington D.C., Houston, Tampa and in California between Dec. 18 and 19. There was even a small get-together at Rajbhog Sweets on the Indian Square in Jersey City.
At many places celebrations started somewhat late as a clear picture of BJP’s victory was not available till the very last moment.
Anugula noted the contribution of OFBJP workers in BJP’s victory as the team volunteers campaigned through telephone calls, social media, and some of them went to Gujarat to personally help in the campaign.
“The celebrations started late in many places in Gujarat, the party headquarters in New Delhi and here in Chicago and other cities of U.S. because when the Congress started going ahead of BJP in terms of tally during the second and third round of counting of votes, people were somewhat confused and did not know about the outcome till the final round of counting was over that saw the BJP win convincingly,” said Dr. Bharat Barai, a medical doctor based in Indiana who joined other Indian-Americans in Gujarat to help in the BJP’s campaign.
“Obviously, celebrations were temporarily put on hold at many places,” he said.
Barai, who is believed to be a close friend of Modi and was one of the main architects of the massive public reception for him in 2014 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, told India Abroad that everybody was happy that ultimately BJP scored victory not only in Gujarat but also in Himachal Pradesh.
“It unnerved a lot of people when the initial gain made by BJP in Gujarat began to fade with the Congress party gaining ground in some of the rural constituencies but before long it became clear that BJP has won majority,” Barai said.
In Houston, OFBJP functionaries gathered for a celebration at a local Indian restaurant Dec. 18. Those who addressed the event included Houston OFBJP chapter coordinator Achalesh Amar who applauded the contributions of senior community members like Ramesh Shah and Sharad Amin who were in Gujarat campaigning on the ground. “People were excited, jubilant and somewhat relieved [that the BJP won] after the election results were declared,” said Amar.
OFBJP vice president and senior leader Adapa Prasad explained in his address in Washington D.C. how BJP’s vote share increased across regions helping the party win assembly elections for the sixth consecutive time thanks largely to Modi’s personal appeal.
Harjit Singh Hundal, general secretary of Akali Dal USA, congratulated BJP, predicting that the BJP and NDA will win in the 2019 parliamentary elections with an absolute majority.
Despite such all-around praise of Modi and his party, many in the community pointed out that the fact that the BJP won only 99 seats against the projected 150 as predicted by BJP President Amit Shah, warrants a deep introspection by party leaders as to what went wrong in Gujarat, so the party can emerge stronger in the next state assembly election in 2018 in Karnataka.
“Nobody brought his issue directly at the victory celebrations in Edison, but some people mentioned about this issue in personal conversations,” said Deepti Jani, an OFBJP member present at the celebrations in Edison.
Barai elaborated on this point further. He said that if one makes an in-depth analysis, clearly while BJP increased its vote share compared to 2012, Congress managed to increase its total seats in the assembly.
“It is true that the margin of victory of Congress party in rural areas was very slim, in some cases even fewer than 100 votes, but they still managed to win rural votes in many areas. There may be some other factors behind this, but the fact is that rural Gujarat received limited development under the successors of Modi,” he said.
“For example, while there has been development, for example proliferation of mobile phones and motor cycles in villages, the physical condition of the roads and housing as compared to urban areas remain like in the British era and that was probably reflected in the voting pattern in urban and rural areas,” said Barai who toured rural Gujarat during the campaign. “Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call and more BJP MLAs will now and visit rural areas and address the issues and problems.”
Others like Vijay Pallod, a community senior from Houston, said the election results in Gujarat were perfect and established the people’s choice. “But this is also true that the results also sent messages to the BJP that became somewhat arrogant going by the way they tried to grab the seat of Ahmed Patel, the Congress party leader from Gujarat. This is one of the reason they could not cross 99 mark. Hopefully, they will learn the lesson,” Pallod said.
Barai said that although he was not fighting the election, the Modi aura is still very much there in Gujarat. “I can tell you that if it not for Modi, BJP would have a tougher time this time in Gujarat,” Barai said.
Dr. Sampat Shivangi, president of Indian American Forum for Political Education, said the Gujarat election results were “eye-openers for all of us and a surprising and shocking outcome” even though it was a small victory.
“BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has done a tremendous job in uplifting the dormant economy, infrastructure improvement, including Bullet train to Gujarat,” Shivangi said. “All these did not bring the results that were expected. In democracy you cannot take your power for granted. People like Mrs. Indira Gandhi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who thought they were invincible, had bitter lessons to learn. BJP was so overconfident about its success that it forgot the basic tenet of humility in success that cost them millions of votes.”